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Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic

Preventing Groundwater Pollution in Vermont

Residents Concerned about Omya is a grassroots citizens group whose members are residents who live near or adjacent to Omya, Incorporated’s calcium carbonate mineral processing facility in Florence, Vermont. The members of Residents Concerned about Omya turned to the clinic for assistance after the State of Vermont ignored their concerns about Omya’s operational practices. The residents’ unease was related to their fear that harmful chemicals were leaching into their drinking water wells as a result of Omya’s improper and unregulated disposal practices.

The challenge to the mining waste exemption then moved to the Vermont Supreme Court, and the Department of Environmental Conservation issued new solid waste regulations that do not include the mining waste exemption. In spite of the state’s increased scrutiny of Omya, the department failed to enforce its regulations against Omya, and the clinic pursued a citizen suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont.

On July 1, 2008, the Court issued an opinion and order holding that Omya’s waste disposal practices constituted an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment. We litigated the remedy stage of the lawsuit against Omya in a hearing held March 23-25, 2009. Following the hearing, Judge Niedermeier vacated his earlier decision on Omya’s liability. Accordingly, the judge denied our proposed order which would have required Omya to do additional studies and monitoring at the site in order to determine the appropriate remedy and denied our petition for attorney fees and litigation costs.

Most Recent Development: RCO appealed the District Court’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We are currently in the briefing stage of this appeal.

“Residents Concerned about Omya, which formed expressly to fight a local mining operation, would have been casually trounced and dismissed by this behemoth multinational corporation had not VLS’s clinic stepped in with brilliance, passion, and clout to ignite our campaign. No one else took the initiative to offer legal help; the law clinic came miles out of its way on many occasions to educate, guide, and encourage us. I am impressed by many aspects of the clinic but mostly by what I see as its deep regard for fairness.” Susan Shaw, Residents Concerned about Omya, Florence, Vermont.