Douglas pushes for consolidated permit appeals process

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says it’s essential that any permit reform bill adopted by the Legislature this year include a consolidation of the appeals process. Douglas says it will be hard for him to support any bill that does not contain this provision.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The governor is sending a clear message to a House-Senate conference committee that is reviewing this issue: don’t send me a compromise bill that doesn’t consolidate the appeals process of Act 250.

The House bill does contain this provision. It consolidates the current system, which sends various appeals to five different boards and panels, to one place – an expanded Environmental Court. The Senate legislation maintains two of these boards for specific appeals – the Water Resources Board and the Environmental Board. The conference committee is now negotiating these differences.

Douglas says any bill that reaches his desk this year must move much farther than the Senate bill:

(Douglas) “I’ve been careful not to draw any lines in the sand, but consolidation of appeals I think is essential because it will expedite the process. It will make it less costly. It’s a key element that business leaders have talked to me about over the course of these few months and before. And so I think it’s very important part of reform.”

(Kinzel) Some Senate leaders are suggesting that the Legislature pass a bill this year that includes all of the areas that the House and Senate agree on, and then come back next year to deal with the consolidation issue. Douglas doesn’t like this approach:

(Douglas) “There’s a widely held view, and I guess I share it, that election years are less likely times for meaningful reforms to be enacted. I think a meaningful permit reform measure needs to include some significant reform at the state level. And the most important part in my view is consolidation.”

(Kinzel) Some lawmakers have proposed that all appeals be directed to a new panel modeled after the Public Service Board. Douglas says he’s willing to look at this plan if the conference committee votes to include it in their final report.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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