Torti named Natural Resources secretary

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has picked an appointee from the Dean administration as his new Secretary of Natural Resources. Douglas named Tom Torti, who has served for eight years as commissioner of state buildings, to head the environmental agency.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Torti will succeed Elizabeth McLain, Douglas’ first Natural Resources secretary, who is stepping down to spend more time with her family.

Torti says he understands the environmental review process since the state is also a developer. He says the Natural Resources Agency faces budget shortfalls and must find a solution to the thorny issue of stormwater pollution in Chittenden County.

(Torti) “There are a number of challenges facing the agency right now and I want to take some time to get up to speed on those. But certainly we have some budgetary issues at Forest and Parks and at Fish and Wildlife, which we are all acutely aware of as we enter into this process. The whole stormwater discharge issue, the impaired watershed issue. Those are big, and that’s in the process of litigation right now.”

(Dillon) As commissioner of buildings and general services, Torti says he worked to make state buildings more energy efficient and promoted a comprehensive recycling program. He says he’s an outdoorsman and loves to hunt and fish.

Pat Berry at the Vermont Natural Resources Council says Torti has already established his environmental credentials.

(Berry) “He took a real lead role as they worked through the greenhouse gas reduction for the state last year, took real ownership. It was one of the issues where we were supportive of this administration taking that first step. So I think it’s a good sign that Torti was leading the charge in this respect.”

(Dillon) Mark Sinclair of the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier is more skeptical. Earlier this week, CLF and other environmental groups criticized Torti for the decision to locate a new state courthouse in an area four miles from downtown Montpelier. The group says state policy says government should place offices downtown, and not encourage suburban sprawl.

(Sinclair) “I think what’s very ironic to us is that in the last couple of days Tom Torti has made a decision in his current position to support construction of a public building, the Environmental Court, in a sprawl location. And it’s disappointing to us is that Governor Douglas would appoint an official who seems to not understand the principals of smart growth of respect Vermont’s land use policies.”

(Dillon) Torti says the state looked for a downtown location for the new court but couldn’t find one. He says the new court is being built in a location that the town of Berlin has targeted for growth.

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

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