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Gov. Phil Scott allows major flood safety climate bill to become law

A photo from above of brown water leaching into dark blue water around land forms.
Vermont Online Library
Floodwaters flow into Lake Champlain in Milton on July 11, 2023.

Gov. Phil Scott has allowed a major climate bill aimed at reducing damages from flooding to become law without his signature.

The Flood Safety Act calls for the creation of Vermont's first-ever statewide regulations on new development in river corridors.

That’s the area where rivers move when they change course over time, sometimes cutting fast and dangerous channels during flood events.

Most of the flooding in Vermont happens there, and building in river corridors is not regulated by FEMA, nor do many people who live there have flood insurance for their properties.

The policy also strengthens protections for wetlands, which slow and filter floodwaters, and it creates stricter regulations on private dams as well as a new program to fund removals and repairs.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont just became the first state to try to make big oil pay for climate damages

Lauren Oates is with the Nature Conservancy, which lobbied for the bill.

"We really need to think differently about how and where we built, and this is an essential first step in making Vermonters safer in the years and decades ahead," Oates said.

 A man in a button-down shirt speaks at a podium in front of maps of Vermont
Bob Kinzel
Vermont Public
Gov. Phil Scott speaks at a news conference about flood recovery on July 19, 2023.

Scott says he supports the goals of the bill, but he called the three-year timeline for building out the new regulations unreasonable. He says the Agency of Natural Resources will ask lawmakers next session for more time.

“With the program anticipated to have a sizable impact on communities and landowners, this pace is reckless,” Scott said.

Scott says the Agency of Natural Resources will ask lawmakers next session for more time.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth called the bill visionary in its scope, and said meeting Vermont’s flood-related challenges — exacerbated by climate change — head-on was a top priority for legislators.

“I believe that in decades to come, S.213 will be seen as the moment Vermont got serious about preparing for the worst of climate change,” Baruth said.

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Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.