(Host) The House Judiciary Committee is considering a major change in Governor Jim Douglas’ Act 250 Reform plan. The governor is urging the committee not to adopt the alternative approach.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) As the governor launches a public campaign to drum up support for his Act 250 permit reform plan, the House Judiciary Committee is looking at a proposal that would make significant changes to the administration’s basic bill.
The goal of the Douglas plan is to consolidate the appeals process of Act 250. Under the current system, different types of appeals are reviewed by several boards. The governor’s plan directs all of these appeals to a single entity – an expanded environmental court. The House Natural Resources committee endorsed this approach as part of its overall bill.
The Judiciary committee is looking at the natural resources plan but it’s also considering another option: the creation of a review panel that would be modeled after the Public Service Board. The PSB is a three-member panel that is supported by a team of hearing officers. Representative Bob Kiss (P-Burlington) thinks it’s better to hear Act 250 appeals in an administrative setting similar to the PSB, rather than a judicial approach with the Environmental Court:
(Kiss) “The courts are under resourced. I think the PSB model has a way of dedicating resources and extending sort of the current environmental board approach and water resources approach, using all the precedent into a more concentrated way to deal with those issues.”
(Kinzel) Committee Chairwoman Peg Flory (R-Pittsford) thinks it’s important to study the alternative plan but she still favors the Environmental Court approach:
(Flory) “It appears at least at this time in the committee to be more support as there was in House Natural Resources for going with the Environmental Court rather than the Public Service Board model. But we just got it this morning so give us the weekend to look it over.”
(Kinzel) The governor is urging the committee to reject the PSB approach:
(Douglas) “We have an environmental judge now. By adding a second judicial officer I think that would provide the level of experience and continuity that’s so important in this process. Also a shift to a new approach would be costlier and this is a very, very tight budget time and that’s a major consideration in a difficult year.”
(Kinzel) The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on this issue next week. Even if the administrative approach is rejected by the committee, it’s likely that it will be offered as an amendment when the full House considers the Act 250 reform bill early next month.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.