Permit reform moves forward despite funding questions

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(Host) Senate leaders say a proposal to overhaul the state’s environmental permit process is on track, despite a dispute over how to pay for it.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not set aside money to pay for a new appeals system in its version of next year’s budget. Chairwoman Susan Bartlett of Lamoille County says there are many pressing issues that are straining the budget.

The permit reform bill would expand the state’s environmental court to handle Act 250 cases and other appeals. Bartlett, a Lamoille County Democrat, doesn’t favor that approach.

(Bartlett) “I don’t think this bill has anywhere near the positive impact that folks are hoping it has, but if I were going to spend the money this isn’t how I would spend it. But if the conference committee passes a bill and the House and the Senate passes a bill, whatever needs to be funded, we’ll fund.”

(Host) The expanded environmental court would cost about $355,000. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch says the money will be found.

(Welch) “It’s pretty straightforward. In the conference committee we can include an appropriation. And then the Senate and the House will have an opportunity to vote on the full conference committee report that would include funding for whatever it is we do. So we can solve the problem in a straightforward way outside of the budget bill that’s in Senate appropriations right now. So I don’t see this as an obstacle.”

(House) Republicans have criticized Democrats for the disagreement on permit reform. But Welch, who is the Senate Democratic leader, says he remains committed to a reform bill that both eliminates redundancy and protects the environment.

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