The same way that a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, Gov. Peter Shumlin has come down on the right side of an issue heating up in the Vermont Legislature. It is the issue of permit reform, i.e. changing the state's land-use review process in a way that backers say will streamline permitting. Ignored for most of this session, permit reform is very important, not only to Vermont developers, but also to just plain folks who are trying to do something with their property, but have to go through a cumbersome permit process to do it.
Gov. Shumlin is proposing that the court refer to the record of the earlier, already completed district environmental board hearing rather than start the case over, de novo, as it does now. Currently, it is expensive and time consuming to wipe the slate clean and redo the case from scratch before the Environmental Court what has already been done. Inevitably, that has led radical environmental groups to withhold their big guns' testimony until after the local boards have reviewed and granted a permit. That allows them to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the permit in Environmental Court. The reform sought would require the nay-sayers to make their points at the local level and would restrict them from the current tabula rasa attacks.
It is noteworthy that former Gov. Jim Douglas proposed and strongly supported the same reform measures that Gov. Shumlin now does. The Natural Resources and Energy Committee of the Vermont Senate was divided on the question last Tuesday. It voted 3-2 to approve legislation that would enable the Environmental Court to test the change in procedure in three of the state's environmental districts in Chittenden, Rutland, Washington, and parts of Orange counties.
The fate of the committee agreement is uncertain. The proposed experiment must still pass the Senate to get started, and the Legislature, close to adjournment, may not have time or the will to move on it. We can only hope.