Report from Montpelier

Dear friends and neighbors,

While the challenges are enormous, so are the opportunities. The legislature is working hard to make sure that Vermont delivers services essential to our lives in ever more accountable and efficient ways.

As your representatives, our job is to make decisions that are informed, balanced and thoughtful. This is difficult but stimulating work and we are honored to be representing our community.

– Representatives Joan Lenes and Kate Webb

Implementing Vermont’s Clean Water Act

With the passage last year of Act 64, the landmark Clean Water Act, the Legislature now turns its attention to overseeing the implementation of policies set forth in the new law. Act 64 was designed to engage all land use sectors, from back roads to highways; from agricultural operations to urban areas; from wastewater treatment facilities to logging sites. Municipalities, farmers, loggers and developers are all learning about changes needed in the way we work the land to protect our lakes and rivers from further degradation.

Municipalities will see the beginnings of efforts for outreach and education regarding roads, stormwater infrastructure, and wastewater treatment facilities. Small farm operators will learn how the old “Accepted Agricultural Practices” are making way for the new “Required Agricultural Practices.” The Department of Forest Parks and Recreation is reviewing their Accepted Management Practices for better management of logging sites. The Agency of Transportation is working on a statewide general permit (TS-4) for the state highway system. The Clean Water Fund Board is now in place. At this time, the planning phase to improve the waters of the state is on schedule.

Vermont’s Treasured Forests

Forests are one of Vermont’s greatest assets. Covering 75% of Vermont’s land, they feed a growing forest products industry and provide a backdrop for recreation and tourist activities. They also provide ecosystem services such as clean water, carbon storage and wildlife habitat for between 24,000-43,000 species of flora and fauna.

Several questions related to our forests came to the attention of the legislature this year. How do we address the growing problem of forest fragmentation that strains connectivity corridors needed for wildlife? How do we encourage succession planning to forestland owners and keep forests intact well into the future? Who pays for fire suppression of forest fires on state lands? Who regulates forestry and when can someone claim logging is a nuisance and when not? What happens if someone comes on your land and steals valuable trees for lumber? These questions and more are currently under review in committees. Expect also to see changes in the way fees are calculated for maple sugaring operations on state lands, tax changes for land acquired by the State, and a pilot program to help provide the State with harvesting data on state lands.

Solar Siting

The rise of the solar industry has created innovative, cost-effective opportunities for Vermonters to save on their utility bills while reducing their carbon footprint. This is while also creating thousands of new jobs and keeping energy dollars in our state as we seek to reach our goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050.

It has not been without growing pains. The Legislature must strike a balance between incentivizing economic growth and ensuring local participation in land use planning. Both the House and Senate have been taking testimony from utilities, business owners, and residents on how to achieve this balance.

Currently, the Senate has initiated solar siting bill S.230, which would:

  • Create an information officer position at the Public Service Board to support informed public participation.
  • Incentivize energy siting in areas that do not impact scenic beauty, such as parking lots, gravel pits, and landfills.
  • Allow municipalities to receive greater deference in the PSB process and designate preferred siting areas.

The House is monitoring progress on this bill, engaging in parallel discussions, and intends to take up S.230 when the Senate has completed its due diligence.

Interested in tracking legislative activity?

Go to http://legislature.vermont.gov/ for online information. This tool enables you to follow the work of the legislature, read the status of a bill and tune in on issues of interest. These are live pages and are updated regularly.

Voter Registration Online: The Secretary of State rolled out online voter registration. To register to vote or to change your voting address, simply visit https://olvr.sec.state.vt.us/. To request an absentee ballot, go to the My Voter Page.

Resources:
Health Insurance: www.VermontHealthConnect.gov (855) 899-2047
Legal Aid: www.vtlegalaid.org (800) 889-2047
Energy Savings: www.efficiencyvermont.org (888) 921-5990
Benefit Service Center (Food, Fuel, Etc): (800) 479-6151
Agency on Aging: www.cvcoa.org (800) 642-5119
Blue Program: www.mychamplain.net/blue-program
VT Taxpayer Advocate: (802)828-6848
Unclaimed Property List: There are more than 350,000 claimable properties totaling more than $67 million. Check the list here: http://www.vermonttreasurer.gov/unclaimed-property

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