April 7, 2020
Jon Groveman, Vermont Natural Resources Council, email@example.com, (802) 249-7736
Jen Duggan, Conservation Law Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org, (802) 461-5309
Environmental Advocates Thank Governor Scott for Prioritizing Public Health and Urge Him to Uphold Environmental Protections, Transparency, and Public Access During COVID-19 Crisis
Montpelier, VT -- Vermont environmental advocates sent a letter yesterday to Governor Phil Scott thanking him for his efforts to address the unprecedented COVID-19 emergency, and urging him to uphold environmental and public health protections during the crisis, along with public accessibility and transparency. Read the letter here.
The letter comes on the heels of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s recent relaxation of environmental rules designed to keep polluters in check and protect public health. Power plants, factories, and other polluters will not be required to report illegal discharges of harmful substances into the air or nearby waters during the pandemic.
“The federal suspension of environmental rule enforcement is a terrible precedent that we should not adopt in Vermont,” said Jon Groveman, Policy and Water Program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC). “Government agencies at all levels already have enforcement discretion to respond to an emergency situation like COVID-19, and allowing polluters to police themselves would be a big mistake.”
“The federal EPA’s decision to prioritize the interests of the oil and gas industry and their allies during this crisis threatens public health, plain and simple. Just as Vermont’s leaders have stepped up to try to better protect our families’ health compared to many other states, we urge them to ensure our response measures prioritize protections for clean air, clean water, and other resources vital to public health and a clean environment,” said Lauren Hierl, director of Vermont Conservation Voters (VCV).
“CLF will be vigilant in ensuring that public health and environmental protections are not rolled back with sham claims,” said Jen Duggan, Vice President and Director of Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Vermont. “Communities that have endured the harmful health impacts from pollution are now on the front lines of this current crisis. We appreciate that the pandemic may require some flexibility on a case by case basis, but polluters cannot be allowed to capitalize on this crisis.”
“The link between long-term exposure to environmental hazards and the most severe outcomes of COVID-19 invections is becoming startlingly clear. It is not the time to be rolling back environmental health protections,” said Shaina Kasper, Vermont State Director with Toxics Action Center.
“We greatly appreciate the Scott administration’s efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lori Fisher, Lake Champlain Committee Executive Director. “As we work together to address the challenges of this crisis, it is clear how important our land and water resources are to our health and well-being and to our state’s economic vitality. Upholding environmental safeguards is an important part of the strategy to protect public health at this critical time.”
“It may be tempting to take shortcuts by removing environmental protections when the economy is hurting, as our federal government has done,” said David Mears, Executive Director of Audubon Vermont, “but in Vermont, we know that protecting our air, water and soil is not just good for our birds and wildlife, it’s also good for our economy, and good for people.”
“Every time we allow our environmental or public health protections to be weakened or rolled back during this health crisis, we run the risk of making the terrible consequences of the pandemic even worse,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG).
Dear Governor Scott,
The undersigned groups appreciate the hard work that your Administration is doing to address the unprecedented public health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus. As you know, our groups have a long history of working on a range of issues, and with people across Vermont. We are part of the community and feel the impact of this crisis along with all of our friends and neighbors.
We understand that in times of crisis, sometimes steps must be taken that deviate from the norm in order to address acute needs of Vermonters. At the same time, as groups whose missions are to protect and restore natural resources, promote sound environmental policies, and safeguard public health, we want to ensure that any actions taken by the government during this crisis are consistent with Vermont’s long-standing tradition of environmental protection and sustainability.
To that end, we request that all Vermont Agencies, Boards and Commissions adhere to the following principles and take the following actions with regard to any changes in practice, process or policy in response to the COVID-19 crisis:
Provide clear and easily accessible information regarding any changes in practice, process or policy for the public to be able to review. At a minimum, such information should be readily available on government websites. In addition, any changes should be announced so that the public is alerted about a change as it happens.
Any change to policies or practices related to enforcing laws related to environmental and public health protection should state the specific rationale for the change; be made on a case by case basis and narrowly defined; be limited to impacts that are directly related to the public health emergency; be temporary; and under no circumstances authorize actions that will result in harm to public health or the environment.
Any criteria or standard that must be met to protect the environment and public health should not be weakened.
Any changes to the decision making process for permits that affect the environment or public health should still allow for the public to have meaningful input into the permitting decision in a manner that complies with current guidelines for social distancing.
Any delay to a proposed rule or policy required by law must include the rationale for the delay and the impact of the delay on the environment.
Thank you for your consideration.
Conservation Law Foundation
Lake Champlain Committee
The Nature Conservancy in Vermont
Toxics Action Center
Vermont Conservation Voters
Vermont Natural Resources Council
Vermont Public Interest Research Group