Vermont Senate Passes Groundbreaking Bill to Help Vermonters Harmed By Toxic Pollution
Montpelier, VT – Today, the Vermont Senate passed a bill (S.37) that helps Vermonters who have been harmed by toxic chemical contamination and face increased medical expenses, reduced property value, and other harms as a result of chemical contamination. Last year, the Senate passed a similar bill and part of the bill was passed by the House but then vetoed by Governor Phil Scott.
Current law is tipped significantly to favor corporations who can attempt to avoid responsibility for paying for the harm they cause by arguing that they met certain permit or industry standards that should shield them from liability. As a result, innocent victims and Vermont taxpayers can be left to pay the costs of harm caused by toxic pollution.
“Vermont should be protecting its citizens’ first and foremost, and S.37 is an important step forward in helping Vermonters harmed by toxic contamination – rather than protecting toxic polluters. VCV thanks Senators Sears and Campion who championed this bill after seeing firsthand the challenges their constituents are experiencing trying to recover fair compensation for the harms they’ve experienced from toxic pollution,” said Lauren Hierl, Executive Director for Vermont Conservation Voters. Hierl added, “We urge the House to follow suit in passing the bill and we hope that this year the Governor will put the interest of Vermonters before polluters by signing the bill into law.”
In 2016, contaminated drinking water wells were discovered in Bennington, where residents found they had been drinking cancer-causing PFOA-contaminated water – in some cases for decades. In response the Vermont Legislature passed Act 154, which created a diverse working group to examine how to better protect Vermonters from being harmed by toxic chemicals. One set of recommendations are reflected in S.37, which gives Vermonters fair legal remedies if they have been harmed by these dangerous chemicals.
Senator Dick Sears noted, “I’m very appreciative of the strong vote for this important legislation. The Senate has approved a measure that will hold the polluter accountable.”
Senator Brian Campion added, “I want to applaud my colleague Senator Sears and his committee for their incredible work on this bill. This bill epitomizes work that represents the needs of the people. I hope the House continues this important work.”
Jon Groveman, Policy and Water Program Director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, added “S.37 is a major step forward towards ensuring that Vermonters harmed by toxic pollution will have access to courts to ensure that when a court finds you exposed people to high levels of toxics that can lead to a disease, the polluter must pay for your medical bills.” Groveman added, “The strict liability provisions of the bill makes Vermont the first state in the nation to say to facilities that use dangerous chemicals, if you are found by a court of law to have made people sick and damaged property, you can’t hide behind permits or industry standards to avoid responsibility for the harm you caused.”
Ken Rumelt, Professor of Law and Senior Attorney, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, added: “The Senate’s action today is a powerful response to the inaction in Washington on toxic chemicals and the inequities built into our legal system. It’s the kind of policy we need to help protect Vermonters from the next PFOA and to secure justice for blameless victims.”