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).