Citizen Access Strengthened on Various Fronts

Citizen Access Strengthened on Various Fronts

Preserving and improving citizen access to environmental decision-making was a bright spot this year.

Early in the year, the legislature gave final approval, and Gov. Shumlin signed, a bill giving citizens more of a say in how the state enforces its environmental laws.

The law, Act 73, gives citizens a chance to weigh in when the state proposes fines for violators of the state’s environmental laws. The Conservation Law Foundation pushed hard for this measure, and VNRC strongly and actively supported that effort. We consider the bill a very important legislative gain for citizens this year.

And toward the end of the session, lawmakers opened up Department of Environmental Conservation rulemaking to more citizen access by requiring an “expanded public participation process with affected stakeholders and other interested persons in a dialogue about intent, method, and outcomes of a proposed rule for the purpose of resolving concerns and differences regarding proposed rules.”

And finally, VNRC worked hard this year to preserve citizen access in the Act 250 process. A bill, S.28, would have modified the permit process by implementing a pilot project to require citizens to participate in a more formal “on-the-record” review of proposed projects that were likely to be appealed, but it ultimately died in the House.

VNRC had concerns about shifting to “on-the-record review,” but we worked hard to support another provision in S.28,  that would have clarified that the bar should be low for citizens to gain party status in Act 250 proceedings.  Despite the failure of the bill to move forward, in a related development this spring, the Environmental Division of the Superior Court, in an Act 250 case in which VNRC was a party, clarified that citizens should be able to participate if there is a “reasonable possibility” that their interests may be affected by the project. This ruling was welcome news.