Responsible stewardship of our environment has made the Vermont what it is, and as a native Vermonter, I am proud of that tradition and am committed to ensuring it continues. 

Make no mistake, protecting our environment and ensuring our economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive goals.  Rather, they can, and must, go hand in hand.

PERMITTING PROCESS AND ACT 250

Vermont's statewide land-use law was an important step in the protection of our natural environment and working landscape, and it continues to be a key component in the development of our lands, and therefore, in our state's economy.

As a native Vermonter and one who is proud of our environmental heritage , I firmly believe there is no reason to undermine the long-established environmental standards of Act 250.  That said, I do believe there are some changes that should be made to the process itself. 

That is why I was pleased when, at the start of the 2020 legislative session, the unlikely duo of Governor Phil Scott and the Vermont Natural Resources Council unveiled a joint proposal to reform Act 250.

And, while everybody had something to dislike in the proposal, the fact there was a compromise at all, albeit a very fragile one, was important given the longstanding battle lines drawn each time an Act 250 reform discussion begins.

For this reason, and the supposed commitment to reform that would make the process more predictable, more consistent, and ultimately more navigable for our families, small businesses, and entrepreneurs, I was incredibly hopeful.

Make no mistake, we need real Act 250 reform.  

We need to listen and understand the concerns of so many who have experienced the process; who are committed to environmental stewardship, but who simply need the process to be more fair, more consistent, and more predictable.

Unfortunately, the bill that passed the House prior to our March Town Meeting Day break does none of that.  In fact, it makes the process more complicated, less predictable, and ultimately, much more difficult for Vermonters.

Indeed, H.926 does a few important things. 

1) It eliminates Act 250 jurisdiction for projects in Downtowns, Neighborhood Development Areas, and possible Village Centers.

2) It makes important changes that help our state's forest products industry.

3) And, an amendment that passed on the floor of the House to make it easier for the development of trails is certainly positive.

I'm also pleased to report that all three of the above items are either in other pieces of legislation already, or are expected to be.

Overall, there are two significant concerns with H.926 as it passed the House.

First, the presumption of Agency of Natural Resources permits in meeting Act 250 requirements is all but eliminated in this bill (page 57).  In the bill as passed the House, the ANR permits that are now presumptive will not necessarily be presumptive any longer.  That means that an applicant - applicants all across this state - will, most likely, be forced into a duplicative permit process on permits that are currently accepted as presumptive.

Second, the inclusion of two additional criteria (page 52-53: "Climate Adaptation" and "Environmental Justice"), the specifics of which nobody knows or understands, is very troublesome. Nobody could tell us during debate on the House floor exactly what these criteria mean or how they will be interpreted.

Even more, under the "Environmental Justice" criteria, it makes clear that a permit will not be granted if any municipality or "group of people" (the definition of which we don't know either) is disproportionately impacted by a project.

This makes little sense to me.  Inevitably, a municipality in which a project is proposed is going to be disproportionately impacted by the project compared to the municipality next door.

And, my ultimate fear is that a project will be objected to on this ground if the project is simply something that an adjourning neighborhood doesn't want.  That neighborhood can simply claim that their neighborhood will be disproportionately impacted by the project.  And, inevitably, they will be correct, in that, compared to another section of town or another municipality altogether, that neighborhood would be disproportionately impacted by the project being proposed.

Again, Vermonters have pleaded with us to reform the Act 250 process; to make it more predictable and more consistent, to make it more navigable so that our neighbors can invest in Vermont, and invest in our communities in an environmentally responsible way.

Does this bill do that?  I don't believe so.  We can, and should, do better.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE

Like most Vermonters, I am fully committed to addressing our planet's climate change challenges in a responsible manner.

It is undeniable that climate change is real.  People only need to see the drastically changing weather patterns throughout the world - including right here in our community and state - and the impact those changing weather patterns are having on our businesses, farms, and lands in general, to understand the reality.  And, it must be addressed. 

But, it must be addressed in a comprehensive way, and in a way that does not unfairly put the burden on working Vermonters or undermine our economic prosperity in general.

To be clear, our legislative, regulatory, and financial efforts have been many over the years, and continue today. 

In just the last few years, I have supported the following:

1) The effort to join the US Climate Alliance that demonstrated our state's continued support of the Paris Climate Agreement;

2) The creation by Governor Phil Scott of the Vermont Climate Action Commission

3) Vermont's goal of achieving 90% renewable energy by 2050

4) Vermont's Renewable Energy Standard that requires utilities to be 55% renewable, and the program that has Vermont utilities helping customers transition away from fossil fuels for heating and transportation

4) Millions of dollars in incentives for Vermonters to purchase electric vehicles (EV) and additional funds to expand EV charging stations

5) Policies and funding to allow for more Vermont businesses to make important investments in energy efficiency initiatives at their facilities

Again, I am fully committed to addressing our planet's climate change challenges.  It simply must be done in a way that does not unfairly put the burden on working Vermonters or undermine our economic prosperity in general.

 

GLOBAL WARMING SOLUTIONS ACT (GWSA)

There has been considerable discussion of late regarding the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) that passed the Legislature and was just yesterday vetoed by Governor Scott, so I again feel it is important that my friends and neighbors here in Stowe and in the region know and understand my thoughts on it.

First off, the GWSA is, in many ways a very good bill, and I worked diligently on the House Energy and Technology Committee (the committee on which I serve) throughout this legislative session to ensure that was the case.

As I've said many times, addressing climate change and its consequences is critical, and while what we do in Vermont will have little impact on the challenge globally, Vermont has been an environmental leader throughout our history, and continues that longstanding tradition now, so I am confident that our little state can have a meaningful impact.

As the final bill emerged, I supported much of what is in it.  I support making the current carbon emissions reduction goals statutory requirements.

I support the creation of a Climate Council that would develop a Climate Action Plan for our state.

I support the opportunity for legal action if a plan is not developed or the emissions reductions goals not met.

And, I was especially pleased that the bill provided for significant efforts at adaptation and resiliency for families and communities throughout the state. We have seen the impact the changing weather patterns have had on all of our communities and we must provide the tools necessary for our communities, businesses, and families to both adapt to, and to create more resiliency to, these weather patterns.

My source of objection to the GWSA is simple. I am not willing to so enormously cede our legislative authority and responsibility to the Executive Branch. At this time, that is precisely what this bill does, by empowering the Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to promulgate rules to implement the Plan that the Climate Council develops.

I simply don't think it appropriate or wise to give this much power to make policy to the Secretary of ANR and the Executive Branch. I think it is of critical importance that public policy decisions be made by those who are elected. We are the elected officials closest to the people. And we are accountable to those people. Any public policies that need to be modified or adopted in order to put into effect the Climate Action Plan should come back to the legislature for such adoption or change.

Frankly, the GWSA, as passed, is the legislative equivalent of the Staples ® "Easy" button.

We don't have to make any of the hard decisions; the difficult votes. Instead, other than an increase of a tax or a fee, whatever policy changes are required to meet the emissions reductions will come from an unelected bureaucrat.

Unfortunately, I have seen far too many times our own legislative bodies cede our responsibility and authority to the executive branch and unelected boards. I remember well, for example, arguing on the House floor against ceding all of our authority for school district reform to the State Board of Education under Act 46; that it was inappropriate for 9 unelected and unaccountable people to be able to force the elimination of school districts. Yet the majority of the legislature did it anyway.

What was the result? Neither the Stowe School District nor the Elmore-Morristown School District exist anymore.

To those who argue that my decision to vote against the GWSA bill and support the Governor's veto, is out of step with the majority in the House, you are absolutely correct. The majority of the Legislature overwhelmingly approved this bill, and seemingly don't believe that this ceding of our authority is problematic. 

Remember, though, the overwhelming majority in the Legislature also supported Act 46 and seemingly didn't believe that that ceding of our authority was problematic. 

I absolutely stand by my decision back then to oppose Act 46, even though I was in the minority voting against it. And, I know a number of legislators past and present who supported the bill wish they had made a different decision back then.

To get back to the GWSA, I tried throughout the time we worked on the bill to find a way for people to support the idea of the Climate Plan and any public policy changes to implement the Plan come back to the legislature for approval, but I was unsuccessful.  So, I cannot, in good conscience, support the bill.

That said, I am committed to continuing our efforts at emissions reductions because I truly think we can all come together on the importance of addressing climate change.

 

CLEAN WATER

It was disappointing that Vermont, one of the leaders among states in environmental protection and stewardship, was in the position we were a few years with regard to our lakes and waterways when the EPA gave us an ultimatum about cleaning up our waters.

I was pleased, therefore, in 2019 that a comprehensive plan for tackling the challenge came to fruition.  After all, our state's waterways are one of our state's most important assets, and must be maintained appropriately!

Of course, the plan was the first step.  The funding to implement the plan was the next challenge.

As I indicated at the time, my philosophy on the funding was simple.  The funding source had to be broad-based, fair, and it has to have a "nexus" to water.  Unfortunately, the first source that always comes to the forefront in the mind of many is the rooms and meals tax, which is revenue generated almost exclusively by the tourism and hospitality industry.  Whether it is an increase in the rooms and meals tax or a $2.00 occupancy fee added to every room per night, in my view it is unfair to place the burden of our clean water on our tourism industry.  Thankfully, for the last couple of years, we had always been able to defeat those proposals.

2019 was different.

While there was significant debate and numerous proposals considered, in the end, the decision was to divert 6% of the current revenues raised from the rooms and meals tax to fund clean water.  This was not be an increase in the rooms and meals tax rate.

While I continue to dislike putting the burden of our state's clean water on the backs of our tourism and hospitality industry, I did support the legislation. 

In the end, I thought it was critical that we have funding in place to support our clean water efforts.