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Testimony to Senate Natural Resources and Energy- Environmental Permitting

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
Testimony to Senate Natural Resources and Energy S.137

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility represents a diverse group of 550 businesses from across the state.  We recently polled our members regarding permitting issues and we share some of these results with you in the hope it will help inform some of the decisions before you.
VBSR is not alone in knowing that a safe and clean environment is critical to Vermont’s economic health.  Not inconsistently, we also urge you to fix systematic problems in the permitting process that need fixing.  Although changes to our current permitting systems are not considered by VBSR as a core economic development strategy, 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 you, and our business and environmental friends, on thoughtful and considered changes to improve our permitting processes.
In our member poll, we asked whether municipal, state environmental, or Act 250 permitting processes were “broken”, “not broken, but in need of some major improvement”, “overall works pretty good, but could use some minor improvement”, or  “works great, no improvement needed”.  (Note: 82 members responded, almost half of which had direct permitting experience and whose responses are included in results sited here).

Some key results:
System “broken” or in need of major improvement

  • State Environmental 41%
  • Municipal                  32%
  • Act 250                     19%


System is working great or needs just minor improvement

  • Act 250                     69%
  • Municipal                  63%
  • State                        44%


We also asked our members what improvements could be made to the existing permitting programs.  Choices included timeliness of decisions, strictness of the standards, redundancy, clarity of standards, and “other”.

Municipal-  
timeliness (47%), redundancy (47%), clarity of standards (44%)

State Environmental
timeliness (55%), redundancy (55%), clarity of standards (48%)

Act 250
timeliness (65.2),  redundancy (52%), clarity of standards (26%)


Conclusions:

  1. Act 250 is not broken.
  2. The greatest potential for permit system improvement is with State Environmental permitting. Improvement is needed in timeliness, reducing the redundancy between ANR permits and other permitting programs, and clarifying (not reducing) permitting standards.
  3. For comprehensive reforms to be effective (and not bring unintended consequences), improvements must result from a thoughtful process that involves interested parties. Changes should not be based on aberrant instances but recurring systematic problems.


Other Comments:

  • Sec. 1- Opportunity Zones- We have concerns about time certain permitting generally but since this is a pilot project we do not have a serious objection.   Time certain permitting can cause bad decision-making and potentially more appeals.
  • Sec. 51- General Permits- We believe there is potential to obtain efficiencies by utilizing more general permits, but it is important to proceed carefully.  We can support these provisions since they are somewhat limited in scope and applicability.  Also, while application processes and compliance are discrete Agency functions, we do support a vigorous and fair compliance program to accompany general (or other) permitting systems.
  • VBSR believes the time has come to take a comprehensive look at our permitting systems to see if they are truly supporting our evolving environmental priorities.

 

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