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Vermont Supreme Court Ruling Supports Clean Water Act Protections

"This case demonstrates the importance of water quality certification to Vermont and other states in protecting fish and wildlife"

Washington, DC – The Vermont Supreme Court unanimously reversed a lower court decision that would have limited Vermont’s ability to protect water quality. The case stems from a decision by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to condition the re-licensing of the Morrisville Hydroelectric Project on higher flows necessary to protect aquatic habitat for brook trout, rainbow trout, and other vulnerable species.

“This case demonstrates the importance of water quality certification to Vermont and other states in protecting fish and wildlife,” said Jim Murphy, legal advocacy director for the National Wildlife Federation. “As states’ authority to protect their waters against federally permitted projects comes under attack from the Environmental Protection Agency, states like Vermont should continue to stand up for a strong a Clean Water Act to keep their ability to ensure waters in their states are healthy and productive for people and wildlife.”

The Clean Water Act authorizes states to certify that projects like Morrisville, licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will meet state water quality standards. ANR used this authority to impose conditions on the FERC license to ensure compliance with standards to protect high quality aquatic habitat. The Environmental Division of the Superior Court sided with the dam operator and struck down the conditions, ruling that hydropower takes precedence over fish habitat. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed and reinstated ANR's conditions. The court's decision sets a strong precedent for future dam relicensing in Vermont and elsewhere.

The Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Vermont Law School is serving as legal counsel to National Wildlife Federation in high impact legal cases and policy advocacy. Through this partnership, National Wildlife Federation’s Legal Advocacy Director, Jim Murphy, also serves as director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic.

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