Environmental Board rescinds rule changes proposal

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(Host) Vermont environmental regulators have dropped their attempt to rewrite Act 250 rules. The changes pushed by the Environmental Board would have made it harder for environmental groups to intervene in Act 250 cases. The board now has backed off from the proposal, and says the changes should be part of a broader effort on permit reform.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Environmental Board oversees the Act 250 development review law. This was the third time the board tried to limit the way the public and environmental groups get involved in Act 250 hearings.

The proposed change came after developers complained that opponents delay projects through hearings and appeals. But when the board heard from the public on its proposal, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Michael Zahner is executive director of the Environmental Board:

(Zahner) “The board decided to defer to a legislative process. So this discussion could occur within a broader context of permit reform.”

(Dillon) Permit reform tops the agenda of Republican Governor-elect Jim Douglas. But the proposals could get bogged down in the Legislature, which will be divided between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate.

Environmental Board staff came to the Legislature to explain why the proposal was being withdrawn. Republican Bob Wood of Brandon wasn’t happy. He says the board should have gone ahead with the changes:

(Wood) “Time is flying. We need business in this state. It could be two years before the Legislature resolves anything knowing how they work with the biennium and the split bodies. And I think we should do anything we can to generate jobs, and generate some good jobs.”

(Dillon) Environmentalists said the board did the right thing. Steve Holmes of the Vermont Natural Resources Council told the board that 98% of all Act 250 applications are approved. Holmes says he’s ready to work with the new administration and the Legislature.

(Holmes) “There are things that can be done. I think we can strengthen the planning process. I think we can strengthen some of the environmental standards and at the same time increase the predictability of the planning process for developers, while allowing citizens the full participation that really we should be looking for, and full appeal rights as well.”

(Dillon) Holmes says VNRC has also met with business groups on how the state should regulate development.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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