(Host) The Vermont Senate has approval to legislation that makes the first substantial changes to Act 250 in over 30 years. The vote on the bill was 25 to 4. A House-and-Senate conference committee has been working on this compromise plan for almost a year.
Under the bill, all appeals of local permits will be sent to an expanded Environmental Court. Currently there is one judge at the Court, and this proposal adds another judge to hear environmental appeals.
The legislation also eliminates the state’s Environmental and Water Resources Boards; these are panels that have been comprised of citizen members.
Backers of the bill argue that consolidating all appeals to a professional court will help speed up the review process. Washington County senator Phil Scott urged his colleagues to support the compromise approach:
(Scott) “Our goals were simply to obtain a fair predictable and efficient process while limiting the adverse impacts to our environmental assets that are so important to our economic vitality as well as to our quality of life. We feel that we accomplished these goals in part by reforming our appeals process. We want to make it perfectly clear that H-175 does not in any way reduce the level of protection provided by our environmental permits or change the criteria of Act 250.”
(Host) But critics of the plan, like Lamoille County Senator Susan Bartlett, warned that the new court procedure won’t speed up the appeals process because opponents of a project will have a variety of new legal options to prolong these cases:
(Bartlett) “My real concern and conviction is that this is one of these examples where good intentions may have run amok and people may not end up getting at all what they hoped they are getting.”
(Host) The measure now goes to the House for its review. The House is expected to debate the plan early next week.