UPDATED | Act 250 Reform Actually Takes a Step Forward?

The House Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife has been slogging through Act 250 reform proposals since last year.  Progress has been glacial and inconsistent.  Nevertheless, pressure has been increasing on the Committee to get something to the House floor in time for the cross-over deadline in mid-March for bills to get to the Senate in time for consideration there.

This pressure finally came to a head this week as the Committee voted a sprawling, 94 page bill out on Thursday.  The bill will still go through review by a number of other committees before being voted on by the House.

Further analysis and updates will be provided next week as warranted, but the following is a summary of the key provisions in the bill:

  • Amending the Capability and Development Plan Findings.
  • Reorganizing the air and water pollution criteria.
  • Amending the transportation, energy conservation, and public investment criteria.
  • Amending the criteria to address ecosystem protection through protecting forest blocks and connecting habitat. The bill also would address ecosystems on ridgelines by reducing the elevation threshold from 2,500 to 2,000 feet.
  • Adding new criteria related to climate adaptation and environmental justice.
  • Requiring that, to be used in Act 250, local and regional plans must be approved as consistent with the statutory planning goals and clarifying that local and regional plan provisions apply to a project if they meet the same standard of specificity applicable to statutes.
  • Exempting designated downtowns and neighborhood development areas from Act 250 and increasing Act 250 jurisdiction at interstate interchanges and over certain new roads. Because the designation under 24 V.S.A. chapter 76A would affect jurisdiction, the bill provides for appeal of designation decisions.
  • Clarifying the definition of “commercial purpose” so that it is not necessary to determine whether monies received are essential to sustain a project.
  • Increasing the per diem rate for District Commissioners to $100.00 and raising the Act 250 permit fees.
  • Amending the permit process by giving the Natural Resources Board the power to issue major permits, in addition to the NRB’s current duties. The Board will have three full time members.  Major permit applications will be heard by a panel of the Board and two District Commissioners from the district where the project is located.  Appeals of Act 250 permits would go to the Supreme Court.  The Environmental Division of the Superior Court would continue to hear other permit appeals and enforcement.
  • Reaffirming the supervisory authority in environmental matters of the Board and District Commissions.
  • Revising and clarifying the statutory authority on the use of other permits to demonstrate compliance with the criteria.
  • Creating a process that would allow properties to be released from Act 250 jurisdiction.
  • Requiring slate quarries to be added to the Agency of Natural Resources Natural Resource Atlas.
  • Establishing a preapplication process to allow municipal and regional planning commissions to weigh in on a project before the Act 250 permit application is filed.
  • Allowing forest-based enterprises to operate outside of permitted hours of operations and to mitigate primary agricultural soil on a 1:1 ratio.
  • Shifting the burden of persuasion to the applicant under Criterion 8.
  • Requiring the Agency of Natural Resources to establish a permit program for highest priority river corridors.

The full draft of the bill as passed by the Committee can be found here.  If you have any questions or wish to discuss the current draft ahead of additional updates, don’t hesitate to contact us at info@aivt.org.

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