Earlier this week Governor Shumlin was joined by elected officials, advocates, and members of the North Bennignton Community to sign H.595 in to law. The new law addresses issues that arose out of the PFOA contamination found in North Bennington earlier this year, and initiates a process to evaluate how the state can better protect our citizens and environment from the threat of toxic chemicals.
Joining Governor Shumlin at the podium to celebrate the bill’s signing were VPIRG Consumer and Environmental Advocate Falko Schilling, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz and Bennington Senators Dick Sears and Brian Campion. “What the people of North Bennington went through this year started a very important conversation,” said Schilling. “No one should have to turn on their tap and wonder if the water is safe for them and their children to drink.”
The new law includes a number of important provisions that will make it easier for the Agency of Natural Resources to prevent and respond to pollution caused by toxic chemicals. Administration officials will now be able to get important information from companies that either have caused, or are likely to cause, a release of hazardous materials. This information will allow the Agency to help contain or stop releases of toxic pollutants, and make it easier to develop strategic action plans that will most effectively protect Vermonters. Another important provision of the law directs the Agency to develop rules to determine how to appropriately assess natural resource damages that will hold polluters accountable for the damage they create.
The legislation also creates a working group to evaluate how the State is regulating toxic chemicals, and how we can do a better job of protecting Vermonters from exposure. This summer, the Agency of Natural Resources will convene the working group made up of administration officials, advocates, and other interested parties from across the state. Specifically, the group will look at issues related to which chemicals are currently regulated, what information we already have about toxic threats, and how we could make that information more readily available to the public. The group will evaluate programs in other states and on the federal level, and make recommendations to the legislature in 2017 on how we can take effective, concrete actions to reduce Vermonters exposure to toxic chemicals.
Below you can find Falko Schilling’s comments on the importance of the new law.
“Thank you Governor, and thank you to the legislators, administration officials and everyone who helped make this bill a reality.
As the state’s largest consumer and environmental organization we are very excited to see H.595 signed in to law. VPIRG supports this legislation because it embodies the idea that we can help to protect public health, our environment, and jobs at the same time.
What the people of North Bennington went through this year started a very important conversation about how we make sure something like this never happens again, because no one should have to turn on their tap and wonder if the water is safe for them and their children to drink.
This law will move that conversation forward by giving the state the tools to help prevent and contain future contamination, and to hold polluters accountable for the damage they cause. Just as importantly the new law will brings all the parties to the table to figure out how we can work together to build a future where we can grow and support local businesses, without putting the health of Vermonters our natural resources at risk. It’s possible for many businesses to cut their use of toxic chemicals by being more efficient or going to safer alternatives. This not only makes the businesses more competitive, it better protects workers, neighbors and consumers.
There is a lot of hard work ahead of us to make this vision a reality, but this is large and important step in the right direction. By signing this bill in to law we continue the Vermont tradition of leading the way to do what is right to protect our most valuable assets.”