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Testimony on H. 332-An act relating to an environmental commission for Vermont in the 21st century

Testimony on H. 332
An act relating to an environmental commission for Vermont in the 21st century
Andrea Cohen, Executive Director, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
April 6, 2011

 I. About VBSR
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility is a statewide business association with over 1200 members--large and small from a variety of business types all across the state.  VBSR just celebrated our 20th anniversary this past fall.  Our members generate $4 billion in revenue annually and employ over 36,000 people, which equates to about 13% of the state’s workforce.   60% of our members have been in business in Vermont more than 10 years. (75% more than 5 years).

II. Messages from our members
(Annual Policy Survey Excerpts-263 respondents)

  • Vermont is a good place to do business- 87%.
  • Municipal and Environmental permitting was less of a barrier to our member businesses than the cost of health insurance (#1), taxes, accessible and affordable childcare, public transportation infrastructure, or finding skilled employees.   
  • When asked whether we should decrease spending, increase spending, or improve efficiency of our environmental permitting programs 12% said decrease spending, 10% said increase spending, and 85% want to see increased efficiency.
  • The greatest contributor to the success of our member businesses is the“Vermont brand and quality of life”.  A clean environment is of great importance to many Vermont businesses who rely on our green state to market their products and services, and to attract and retain talented employees.  

We have other very detailed survey data regarding permit program improvements that would help inform permit system improvements. We believe it is worthwhile to take a comprehensive look at our permitting systems to see if they are truly supporting our evolving environmental priorities, and if they are being implemented efficiently.

Comments on H.332- While we support the goals of the legislation we have some serious concerns about some elements of the bill.  The job as outlined is ambitious and politically sensitive so great care must be taken with Commission composition and process.

  • 13 members are too many.  If you choose to go with a group this size a professional mediator/facilitator may be needed.  
  • There is not necessarily consensus within the “environmental” or “business” community about permit reform—and many parties are well dug-in with their positions.  It may be advantageous to keep the commission limited to just the legislative and administration officials and then consult with ALL interested parties at appropriate times.  Ideally there would be a round of consultations, followed by more research and deliberation, followed by a comment period and then final recommendations offered.
  • We have SERIOUS concerns with the bill language that requires the governor to make an appointment to the commission based on the recommendation from a specified business association (Sec. 2 (5)).
  • Duties (A) and (B) will take a great deal of effort and time.  Do they need to be that comprehensive?  10 years ? “All” agencies of state government?  
  • Duty (E)- why is it necessary to call out just one of the many business associations for consultation?  We would prefer you list them all or list none.
  • Consolidation is not an end in itself.  How do we best get the job done ? There needs to be more emphasis on systems improvement throughout all the commission’s work.

A safe and clean environment is critical to Vermont’s economic health.  Not inconsistently, we support efforts to fix systematic problems in the permitting process. There are changes and improvements that can be made to make our systems more navigable and efficient. We hope that we can continue to work with the legislature, the administration, our business colleagues and environmental associates, on thoughtful and considered changes to improve our permitting processes.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

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