This commentary by James Ehlers originally appeared in the Rutland Herald on May 27, 2017.
We are poisoning our most fundamental necessity for life, our water.
Aside from air and then shelter, it seems almost ridiculous to have to devote commentary to its importance. Yet, here we are.
In a move that would make even Machiavelli beam, our three most powerful politicians — the governor, the speaker of the House, and the Senate president pro tempore — went so far as to put forward a budget that not only slashes by 20 percent what little dedicated funding there was for the protection of our drinking water, our beaches and our public health. They did so by putting their fellow legislators in the position of having to choose between supporting state partnership in affordable housing or safe drinking water. Legislators responded by doing what legislators do — some of everything, nothing of all that is actually needed. In other words, in political speak, they split the baby. And, we all know, split babies are neither pretty nor longlived. They did it anyway.
That’s the bad news. Dirty water and insufficient housing, and no long-term investment plan for either.
The good news is that the budget was so poorly thought out and mired in bush-league politics that the Legislature adjourned without a budget for the governor to sign, leaving us who appreciate that we cannot continue to exist as a species hell-bent on its own destruction, with time to let lawmakers know that they must invest in water protection if we are to thrive as creatures, never mind as some arbitrary geopolitical contrivance. Here is how we will do it, and it must be a “we.”
— Call the Governor at 802-828- 3333 and tell him you support immediate state investment in our local communities’ water and wastewater infrastructure. Next session there must be wholesale tax reform, but recognizing that will not happen in the next four weeks, ask him to work with the opposition party to restore the Clean Water Fund in its entirety. We cannot restore our drinking water supplies, beaches and fisheries while decimating the restoration fund. There were 828 drinking water violations in Vermont in 2015. Put the money back.
— Call the governor again and plead with him to put in place an immediate moratorium on the spraying of pesticides by the state along our roadways, by utilities across the power lines and gas lines crisscrossing our state, and even municipalities for the purposes of controlling “weeds” in parks. The health of entire ecosystems, including the pollinators on which our food supply depends and our aquatic food chains, is in peril. This is not lefty hippie fundraising messaging. The science of the impacts of industrial pesticide usage is staggering. There are streams in this state where the presence of these poisons exceeds the aquatic life benchmark by factors in the hundreds. If a moratorium was necessary to protect us from the potential threat of negative environmental impacts of renewable energy, a moratorium on the spraying of known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors is conservative by any standard.
— Then call the governor again and demand that he fulfill his obligation under the Clean Water Act to protect our interest in swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters by putting an end to combined sewer overflows. He has the authority, from the federal government, to put an end to municipalities using our rivers as sewers and our lakes as cesspools. In fact, many in his administration know they should have done so when they served the previous Republican governor, especially since the state was to have done so by July 1983.
In 2016, alone, towns and cities dumped human feces and all else that goes down our toilets and drains into our rivers and streams 149 times, totaling nearly 18 million gallons. This is not about the vaunted nutrient, phosphorous, or P, which has received so much attention as a result of the federal lawsuit, but pathogens and viruses. Human waste flowing into the waters where we swim, paddle and fish can pose health risks for weeks on end. And waters across the state are impaired not just by P, but by bacteria and all other manner of pollutants.
In summary then, call the governor every day until he clearly understands that we value our water and our health and our lives. We are water. We are not just taxpayers, and many of us certainly are not partisan. Let him know that and you are counting on his integrity to:
1) Restore the Clean Water Fund
2) Place a moratorium on the spraying of industrial pesticides until we have had a chance to look at closely and understand all the impacts to our safety and well-being.
3. End combined sewer overflows. No one has a right, property or otherwise, to poison and destroy the property of their neighbors. Use your authority as a regulator to end this practice.
The governor just vetoed the cannabis legalization legislation, for our safety, so he stated. I really want to believe he does care about our welfare, but he makes it very hard when he turns his back on the poisoning of our public waters and the crumbling of community infrastructure. No one likes taxes, but it is my experience that we find poisoning to be taxing in a way that $1 per week per Vermonter and some prudent regulation would never be seen to be a burden. Hypocrisy only engenders further mistrust, creating an even more taxing situation. Consistency is an excellent way to build trust, and like nature, integrity is not something to be negotiated. None of us can drink money. It’s a choking hazard and never safe.