BENNINGTON — Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a bill that would have enacted stricter regulation of toxic substances will stand after an an attempted override fell four votes short in the Vermont House on Wednesday.
Members voted 94 to 53, not enough to meet the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor's veto.
The Vermont Senate had voted 22-8 Thursday to override Scott's April 16 veto.
The bill, "An act relating to the regulation of toxic substances and hazardous materials," was prompted by PFOA contamination found in and around Bennington.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, in a statement after the vote, she said she was proud of the members who she said "voted to support transparency for Vermont families seeking to protect themselves from toxic substance exposure."
"It's a tremendous disappointment to put this work in over two years and to see it die," Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, told the Banner after the House vote. Sears co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Brian Campion.
Campion, D-Bennington, said some provisions in the now vetoed legislation could be added to bills that are still in committee. "We might still be able to get a few things out of this," he said. "It's still disappointing." Campion called the issue "timely" and said other states are looking to address toxic substances.
Sears said he appreciates state officials' efforts to bring clean drinking water to those impacted by PFOA contamination in their private wells. But the veto, he said, "doesn't do any good in preventing future contamination.... We're not learning from our mistakes."
The bill originally passed in the House on a vote of 96-42.
Scott wrote in his veto message last week that the bill "has many negative unintended consequences, threatening our manufacturers' ability to continue to do business in Vermont, and therefore, our ability to retain and recruit more and better paying jobs."
The bill proposed a group that proponents said would have better managed chemicals while making recommendations on how to reduce their risk of use.
Scott, by executive order last summer, established a similar Interagency Committee on Chemical Management and Citizen's Advisory Panel. The former is due to make its first round of recommendations by July.
The bill also would have given the state health commissioner new authority to ban children's products containing certain "chemicals of high concern." The regulatory standard would be based on the possibility that children "may be exposed" to a harmful chemical, rather than that they "will be exposed."
Now, the commissioner can issue bans on the recommendation of a committee of leaders from several state agencies. The bill would have allowed the commissioner to issue bans "after consultation with" the committee. The commissioner would have been able to use "independent, peer-reviewed research," instead of "the weight of scientific evidence."
Scott said that change in what research could be used would make Vermont "an outlier." Scott said that "Vermont will be a less friendly place for the manufacturers to locate and sell their products here."
Scott wrote that Act 188, passed in 2014, "creates a robust regulatory process that requires manufacturers of children's products disclose to the Department of Health whether a product contains any of the 66 chemicals listed in the law."
The governor did not take issue with requirements around groundwater testing for drinking water sources. The bill would require any groundwater source to be tested for specified chemicals prior to its use as a well.
Eight members of the Bennington County delegation, in an April 10 letter, had urged Scott to sign the bill.
"The crisis of discovering drinking water in some of our homes in North Bennington and Bennington contained high levels of the cancer-causing chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) highlighted the gaps in protections for Vermonters from toxic chemicals," that letter stated.
The legislators wrote that they believe putting the inter-agency committee into statute "ensures its longevity beyond your administration, and creates a feedback loop directly to the Legislature so we can take action on the committee's recommendations."
Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, called it "a bad day for Vermonters." The bill "would have been a first step toward providing much-needed protections for Vermonters from toxic pollution."
Lauren Hierl, executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters, said it was "unfortunate that many of the House Republicans who voted for [the bill] just a few weeks ago, switched their vote to uphold Governor Scott's veto."
With the exception of Rep. Rachel Fields, D-Bennington, who was absent, all lawmakers representing Bennington County voted for the override.
Ed Damon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.