Lawmakers rolled into Montpelier today to kick off the second half of the 2013-2014 legislative biennium.
This year, VNRC is urging legislators wrap up two pro-environment measures left over from last year, as well as pass some additional, but relatively targeted, changes to land use and clean energy policy. Here’s the rundown on VNRC’s primary legislative priorities for 2014:
Shorelands; “TMDL.” The House last year also passed H.526, a bill that would put in place long overdue safeguards for Vermont’s lakeshores. The legislation would set up a new program to regulate certain development along the shores of lakes and ponds. The objective is to encourage landowners to develop lots in a “lake friendly” way that keeps pollution out of the water and assures healthy bird, fish, and mammal habitat along the shore. Lawmakers held field hearings on the issue over the summer, and heard from hundreds of members of the public. VNRC hopes that now, over the next several weeks, the Senate will pass a meaningful lakeshore bill similar to H.526. Also this year, the House will begin discussing how Vermont will fulfill its obligation to meet a Lake Champlain cleanup plan, soon to be released by EPA, known as the “TMDL.” VNRC will be closely tracking this, as well.
Current Use. Last year the House gave the green light to H.329, a bill making targeted improvements to the Current Use program. It would strengthen the penalty for taking land out of the program and developing it, and it would create a study committee to determine whether municipal reimbursements to towns are equitable. The bill would also require the development of guidance to ensure that permanently conserved land is assessed in a consistent manner across the state. Senators are expected to take up Current Use legislation this year after finishing public hearings, and VNRC is urging them to act on the House-passed bill.
Net Metering; Weatherization. Net metering, Vermont’s most successful small-scale renewable energy program, has slowed or stopped in many areas of the state, leaving some homeowners, farmers, businesses, and towns unable to generate their own clean, local power. That’s because several utilities have met the statutory four percent cap and are no longer required to tie onto their systems new net-metered projects, most often solar generation. VNRC has been working closely with state officials, town energy committees and other partners to find a legislative fix for net metering that not only ensures that all Vermonters who want to go renewable can do so, no matter where they live, but also keeps this important program strong and stable. VNRC will also continue to push the Legislature to invest far more in money-saving, greenhouse-gas-reducing heating efficiency solutions. At the very least, a $12 million appropriation is needed to simply maintain the state’s already-backlogged, highly successful low-income weatherization programs.
Growth Centers Reform; Working Lands. VNRC is working with the state and other organizations to develop legislation that improves the growth center designation process. The growth center law, passed in 2006, is aimed at steering new development into designated areas that are planned for dense development and that complement existing downtowns and villages. To help this program fulfill its potential, VNRC is urging lawmakers this year to change the program to better link local planning and growth center planning, and assure that the growth centers are indeed the compact, efficient centers envisioned by lawmakers when they passed the growth centers law. VNRC also supports provisions to better protect rural areas outside of growth centers so that development maintains the integrity of our forest and agricultural lands. In addition, VNRC will be supporting efforts to continue strong funding for the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative begun two years ago.
If you have any questions about these or other legislative issues, or want additional background so you can weigh in with lawmakers yourself, please contact Jake Brown, VNRC’s director of communications/government affairs. You can also follow us on Twitter at @vnrcorg, visit our website vnrc.org, and like us on Facebook. And look for more legislative updates from VNRC over the next few months.
Thanks for all you do,
The VNRC Team