New permit reform plan introduced

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(Host) House Democrats have come up with their own plan to improve Vermont’s environmental permit process. Permit reform is a hot issue in the Statehouse, with proposals advanced by both Governor Jim Douglas and by business groups.

House Democrats say their plan will streamline various permit programs and will keep citizens involved in environmental review. The governor’s plan would turn permit appeals over to an expanded environmental court. Westminster Democrat David Deen says the courts would add another layer of legalistic review.

(Deen) “The citizens that serve on the Water Resources Board, the Environmental Board and the others – district commissions included – come from different backgrounds. They all don’t have a legal background – there are developers, there are environmentalists, there are a broad range of interests that serve on citizen panels. A judge comes from a particular background and may or may not know diddley about environmental protection, environmental issues.”

(Host) The Democratic plan would create a unified set of standards for Act 250 and the reviews conducted by other state permit programs.

The Democrats also want to add two permit specialists to the Department of Environmental Conservation. Underhill Democrat Margaret Hummell says these state employees would guide businesses through the permit process. She says the Douglas administration has left two of these positions vacant.

(Hummell) “We believe that our bill makes a modest effort toward anteing up the resources to do the job, which is additional folks to walk people through the process and make it less painful.”

(Host) The Democrats’ bill would also change the way environmental groups get involved in Act 250 review. The bill adopts the legal standard used by the courts for party status.

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