There really are far more important things to grouse about in the world today, but this got my goat and wouldn’t set it free.
Today’s Messenger held an editorial that I take very personally.
Not for the first time, Emerson Lynn trotted out those old Republican talking points: that Vermont’s environmental community doesn’t want any growth whatsoever to occur, and that the only purpose of Act 250 permit appeals is to delay projects.
In your editorial of August 20, you have mistakenly put words in the mouth of Vermont’s environmental groups: “They’d prefer no growth to any growth.”
I can think of only one environmental organization in Vermont that holds a “no growth” position, “Vermonters for a Sustainable Population”, which contends that Vermont has already exceeded its capacity for long-term sustainability.
The remainder of Vermont’s large environmental organizations believe that we should only permit growth that follows the rules established under laws, backed by math and science, which seek to ensure that development occurs where it may benefit the community without negatively affecting either the environment or the local economy.
While developers might sometimes disagree, I think most people would say that is an eminently sensible goal.
Vermont’s historically conservative attitude toward development has been vindicated by the fact that, in the last recession, the state’s housing market wasn’t pulled into the same vortex of ruin that plagued other states with laxer rules.
You suggest that appellants’ only motive is to delay the inevitable. That may be true of some business-on-business appeals, but it simply is not true of appeals that arise from the action of environmental groups.
The vast majority of Vermont’s environmental groups are not interested in stopping growth; and they do not have the resources to pursue appeal as a frivolous delay tactic. They bring arguments to the Environmental Court only when they feel that the District Commissioners have failed to uphold provisions of Act 250.
Act 250 review involves ten different criteria, some of which are highly technical. District commissioners are seldom appointed for their scientific knowledge. If they have any related professional background at all, it will be in just one area of the ten. I have read District Commission decisions that seemed completely at odds with the lengthy record of facts and findings, as if they were pre-drawn conclusions.
Commissioners are political appointees; which usually means they have friends in high places. If those friends have more sympathy for developers than for the environment, it is likely that the Commission’s decisions will reflect that bias.
You are quite right that nearly all Act 250 applications are approved. It is also a fact that appeals are rarely successful, but that does not invalidate the need. Developers have much deeper pockets than environmental groups, and only the terminally naive do not believe that money makes the difference.
It was hoped that by making the initial phase of Act 250 more accessible and responsive to concerned citizens, the need for appeals would be reduced; but an important component in the fairness of the process is the criteria for selection of commissioners.
If the composition of those commissions continues to reflect a business rather than scientific bias, be prepared for more appeals.