The new draft of the bill includes a section signaling a major policy shift. The new language would call for the Natural Resources Board to work with the Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies to develop a framework for delegating the Administration of Act 250 permits to municipalities. The Committee expressed interest in asking for consultation with an “environmental organization,” state agencies (presumably the Agency of Natural Resources), and possible public hearings.
Representative Sibilia asked whether they have an opportunity to amend the bill based on a GMP request they were planning to hear that day. Sheldon suggested it wasn’t likely to make it into the Committee amendment as they were about to vote out the bill. Although it wasn’t clear, it seems this would be proposed as a separate amendment.
Candace Morgan (Director of Corporate Affairs, Green Mountain Power) testified on a request from Green Mountain Power. In her presentation, she shared that three of the ten worst storms they have ever seen occurred this winter. They are rapidly trying to reduce carbon and set up microgrids with utility-scale battery backups in order to increase resilience. Act 250 is hampering their ability to build out some of these redundancies. Morgan offered a draft amendment that would exempt these types of projects from Act 250 review.
Chairwoman Kornheiser introduced the bill, saying that they were inspecting any areas with tax credits, and fees, etc. Legislative Counsel noted that language in earlier versions of the bill contained wastewater connection fees but it was removed in lieu of a study.
There was some interest in section 14 due to changes in the Municipal and Regional Planning Fund, which allows funds to be disbursed on a rolling basis for direct technical assistance. Also, Kornheiser appreciated a study committee seeking recommendations for streamlining wastewater permitting.
Chairwoman Kornheiser was primarily interested in JFO’s take on potential revenue losses from reduced permitting fees. The Natural Resources Board (NRB) had declined to dig back through their records related to the types of permits that are proposed to be exempted, so JFO didn’t have too much to go on. However, housing tends to be more expensive, and since permit fees are based on project costs, the impact is not insignificant.
NRB anticipated revenues of $2.7M in 2024 and expect to see decreases of “a few hundred thousand,” should the bill pass.
Representative Anthony asked about the tax credits for affordable housing. These funds are fully committed currently; JFO noted that the program likely could not be expanded without additional funds.
Representative Branagan asked what the “story” was “with voting yes in committee and reserving our [real] vote yes or no for the floor.” Kornheiser responded that everyone could vote their conscience in committee, noting that their committee always has bills that have policy components but their job is to review fiscal impacts. She added that she thought “it’s not kind to our colleagues to speak publicly against bills that we voted on in committee.” Branagan appreciated the comments and agreed she “would not speak publicly.”
All voted in favor of advancing the bill.