Senator asks E-Board not to act on permit reform

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(Host) A leading Senate Democrat wants the Environmental Board to hold back on permit reform to give the Legislature time to addresses the issue. The Environmental Board oversees the Act 250 development review law. Its proposed changes in Act 250 rules received mixed reviews at a public hearing on Wednesday.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Environmental Board drafted the rule changes after the Legislature adjourned last spring without passing a permit reform bill.

The most controversial point of the board’s proposal would change the way citizens gain party status in Act 250 hearings. Critics say it could shut the public out of the process. The board heard from Chittenden County Senator Ginny Lyons. She chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee and is closely involved in the permit reform debate.

Lyons wants the board to wait while the Legislature finishes its work on permit issues.

(Lyons) “I urge you to allow the citizen Legislature to complete its work on party status. It would be inappropriate to change the party status rules out of context with broader changes.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas has made permit reform a top priority and has repeatedly said the Environmental Board should go ahead if the legislative attempts fail.

But Lyons said her committee will meet on Thursday and hopes to have a compromise bill ready by January. She said the Environmental Board should not change the rules for party status without also expanding the appeals rights for citizens in Act 250 cases. She also questioned some of the arguments frequently made for permit reform.

(Lyons) “It’s clear to me permit reform is not economic development. Economic development occurs through incentives, through programs that create jobs. Permit reform to me is an opportunity to preserve our natural heritage while we move forward. I think it’s very important to remember the role that we all play in this room to preserve our natural resources.”

(Dillon) The Environmental Board heard from citizens who have been through the Act 250 process. Developers and business lobbyists also testified about their frustrations with the law.

Curt Carter, who works for the state Commerce Agency, disagreed with Lyons. He urged the board not to wait while the Legislature works on the law.

(Carter) “I think for the board to wait for something maybe to happen would be irresponsible. I think the board needs to look at existing statute, existing rules, existing precedent and try to make some corrections and additions to that.”

(Dillon) The Environmental Board hopes to have its rule changes complete by early winter.

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

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