Permit reform plan upsets environmentalists

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(Host) A proposal from the Douglas administration to change the state’s environmental permit process has begun to circulate in Montpelier. A legislative draft of the Douglas plan has won support from business groups, but it’s criticized by environmentalists.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas will soon make good on his campaign pledge to deliver a permit reform package in the first 100 days of his administration. The Douglas proposal would give more power to the Agency of Natural Resources. It would make many of the agency’s permits binding in Act 250 review. The plan is designed to reduce appeals by development opponents. It would limit the ability for environmental groups to get involved in Act 250 cases.

Sheri Larsen, a lobbyist for the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, says the proposal makes sense:

(Larsen) “The top issues on the permitting reform question are party status, appeals and a consolidated application process, where one agency’s ruling would be the end answer to the permit. And we understand that the Douglas administration will be submitting a proposal in the very near future and we expect to be supporting his plan.”

(Dillon) Environmental groups are gearing up to oppose the plan. Elizabeth Courtney is executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

(Courtney) “This proposal would significantly reduce citizen participation element in Act 250. It puts the decisions about environmental protection into the hands of developers. It takes a law that’s designed to be for and by the people and removes the citizen from the equation.”

(Dillon) Courtney and other environmentalists were already unhappy with the governor over several of his key appointments. She says environmentalists weren’t consulted on the permit plan. She hopes the Legislature will give the public an opportunity to weigh in on permit reform.

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

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