At VNRC we have championed Act 250 and its role protecting Vermont’s environment and communities for the past five decades. We have been involved in advocating for the law since before it was enacted (read more here about our history with Act 250 from pre-1970 to present day) and have defended it against dozens of attacks over the years.
Beyond simply advocating for the law, VNRC has first-hand experience fighting before District Commissions, the Environmental Board, the Environmental Court, and the Supreme Court for environmental protections.
As Vermont has evolved over the past 50 years, so have the challenges facing our state. It is imperative that the laws safeguarding our environment continue to address these challenges. To that end, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife (NRFW) passed a bill that would update and modernize Act 250 to better serve future generations. VNRC supports this legislation, which will:
Strengthen environmental protections in Act 250
As the oldest environmental advocacy organization in Vermont, it is our long-time goal to ensure that Vermont’s natural resources, wild places, and working lands are preserved for the ecological, cultural, and economic value they provide, and for the health of the state and planet overall. The proposal for Act 250 strengthens environmental protection by:
- Adding criteria to maintain intact forests and increase protections for wildlife habitat, which are already shrinking under the pressures of scattered development and climate change;
- Expanding jurisdiction to better address projects in ecologically-sensitive high elevation areas, or projects that could unduly fragment forests and working lands;
- Expanding jurisdiction to address sprawling development around interstate interchanges;
- Adding criteria to address climate change through transportation and energy criteria;
- Improving protections for river corridors by requiring ANR to create a river corridor permitting program, and updating the science to reflect a changing climate that comes along with more frequent, more intense flooding events;
- And much more.
Create a fairer, more efficient process that improves public participation
Create earlier opportunities to participate through a scoping process
The bill calls for Act 250 to build in a scoping process, which currently doesn’t exist. This would allow applicants and interested parties the opportunity to learn about a proposed project, learn about and narrow contentious issues, and reduce points of conflict before applications are finalized. This gets people who are interested involved before the more formal hearing, maintaining the spirit of Act 250 and enhancing public participation.
Enhance the Natural Resources Board while keeping local representation
We also call for an enhanced, independent Natural Resources Board (NRB) comprised of 3 full-time members who must meet certain qualifications and cannot be removed for political reasons. They will serve alongside two regional District Commissioners, who will provide a necessary local and regional perspective, and who will have full voting rights when making decisions about projects.
A strong Board would bring additional resources and professional expertise to the review process, better accommodate citizen participation, and ensure a fair and impartial review and appeals process. This is particularly important since the complexity of applications has increased over the years.
Under the proposal, 80% of applications will be processed the same way as they are today.
District Commissions will continue to process minor applications (“minors”), make jurisdictional decisions, and decide if a project is a major application (a “major”) or a “minor,” as they do now. Since 80% of Act 250 applications are “minors,” most Act 250 issues would still be handled solely in the districts, even in the newly proposed system.
We have an incredible amount of respect for the work that District Commissions have done over the years. This proposed system would build on their work to make Act 250 stronger and more sustainable for the future.
The health and stability of Act 250 are our priority. We will keep you posted on our efforts to strengthen the law so it is best prepared to meet the challenges of the next 50 years, for the sake of Vermont’s environment and the people and wildlife who call Vermont home.