A bill seeking to hold polluters accountable for contamination has passed the Vermont Senate for the second time in two years.
Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington County, said he hoped Gov. Phil Scott will look on S.37 — which still needs to pass in the House — more favorably than he did a similar one the governor vetoed last year.
“I hope he won’t listen to the Legion of Doom coming from the business community,” Sears said. “Somebody’s going to pay. Should it be the victim, the state or the company that did the pollution?”
The bill, which passed the Senate Thursday by a vote of 21-8, holds polluters strictly liable for any harm caused by the release of toxic substances and allows people exposed to toxic substances to recover the costs of medical monitoring.
“It was such a strong vote in the Senate,” Sears said. “I’m hoping the House will have a similar response. ... We’ve zeroed in on the major polluters. Having dealt with it in North Bennington, I think it’s an appropriate response.”
Jon Groveman, policy and water program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said the bill that made it to the governor only included medical monitoring, having been stripped of the strict liability section in the House. He said a number of revisions made in committee this year ought to make it easier for the bill to get Scott’s signature.
“There was one clarification,” he said. “The governor thought that the legal standard for getting medical costs was strict liability. That’s not the standard, and it’s clarified now. ... It’s the negligence standard.”
Groveman said that people exposed to toxic substances don’t necessarily get sick right away, and paying for medical monitoring will make it easier to catch health problems from contamination earlier, which in turn will make them easier to treat.
Groveman said the committee process also narrowed the strict liability section so that it would only apply to pollution from large facilities, not small businesses or homeowners, and also included a five-year sunset clause.
“That was a fairly big concession the committee made to insurance concerns,” he said.
Groveman pointed out that if approved, the strict liability portion would not apply to existing lawsuits over pollution, but that the medical monitoring section could be the subject of new legal actions stemming from previous pollution incidents.