Well intentioned legislation can have unexpected, costly results. The current session of the Vermont Legislature features several sweeping environmental and land-use bills and proposals. Most notably are H.926 – Act 250: The Next 50 Years (Act 250 2.0), H.688 – the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) and PR.9 – a proposition to amend the Vermont State Constitution to include language that declares clean air and clean water a right.
Although it lacks a catchy name like the aforementioned bills, H.671 is critically important to Rutland County legislators. This stormwater permitting extension bill would:
“…extend by two years the required date by which coverage under a general permit shall be sought for a discharge of stormwater from impervious surface of three or more acres in size when the stormwater discharge previously was not permitted or was permitted under an individual permit or general permit that did not incorporate the requirements of the 2002 Stormwater Management Manual. The bill also would grandfather discharges of stormwater from the requirement to seek coverage under the three-acre permit if the discharge was previously permitted, the current owner of the parcel from which the discharge originates is the original listed permittee on the previously issued individual permit, and the previously issued permit is current or has not expired.”
The bill would give business and property owners more time to cope with the consequences of Act 64 – the Clean Water Act of 2016. Yet, H.671 doesn’t deal with the consequences at all: it merely kicks the can down the road, and the financial consequences are still undiminished. Rutland County alone is facing a multi-million dollar expense to business and property owners. When 2020 Gubernatorial Candidate John Klar asked about the costs to Rutland County land owners, VT DEC Stormwater Program Manager Padraic Monks estimated $300,000,000. Shocked by that number, local legislators responded by crafting H.671. It pleads “give us more time” to face the overwhelming cost of Act 64, a bill that was almost unanimously supported and adopted. But why was there any surprise?
“Um, there is not a price tag on these bills. These are proposals that we’re putting forward that will have to be put through a rigorous, um, committee vetting policy, um, during the legislative session. “Climate Caucus Co-Chair, Representative Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D Orange-2)
Much like the attractively-named bills and proposals of this current session, H.35 (retitled Act 64 after passage) was given the majestic monicker of the Clean Water Act. When asked why the bill received such overwhelming support, several legislators replied, “who in their right mind was going to vote against clean water?” “Not if anyone wanted to get reelected. You’d get crucified by the press.” With a little clever marketing language and the threat of a hostile media environment, the bill passed with no firm answers to what it would require and who would pay.
Like all new laws, Act 64 was assigned to the state agency tasked with implementation and enforcement. The agency created rules to give the law its legal teeth – including the stormwater fees. The rules were sent to the eight member Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) to verify that they are Constitutional. The agency conducted several public hearings to let citizens know what was about to be implemented. Short of a Constitutional error caught by LCAR, what was presented at these hearings was destined to become the law.
The actual financial consequences to citizens of Vermont was not determined until AFTER the bill had become law. This is why there was sticker shock over the $300,000,000 price tag for Rutland County.
The same ‘after the fact’ rule-making process would apply to the equally massive bills making their way through the State House: H.926 – Act 250 2.0, H.688 – the GWSA, the TCI and PR.9 – the proposed clean air and clean water Constitutional amendment. If anything, they are potentially more comprehensive and expensive than the Clean Water Act. All of these bills are being supported by the Climate Solutions Caucus, a coalition of Democrats and Progressives from across the state.
When asked if their TCI proposals would bring any additional costs, on top of the $300 million, to Rutland County taxpayers, Climate Caucus Co-Chair Representative Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D Orange-2) answered:
“Um, there is not a price tag on these bills. These are proposals that we’re putting forward that will have to be put through a rigorous, um, committee vetting policy, um, during the legislative session. Um, but, you know, I can tell you with, with the exception of continuing the, ah, the EV incentives and the investment in, um, ah, electric charging facilities and the investment in weatherization, the Climate Solutions Caucus doesn’t have, ah, a new, ah, financial ask. Um, that we don’t anticipate, um, that these will have a large demand on appropriations this year.”
Representative Robin Chestnut-Tangerman (D Rutland-Bennington) followed up by suggesting that their TCI proposals could end up paying for themselves, though no analysis was provided to support his assertions. FYIVT reached out to Climate Caucus Co-Chairs, Representative Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Senator Tim Ashe (D/P Chittenden District), for clarification about costs to taxpayers -how much, and whether it has even been discussed. As of this writing, neither have responded.
Eerily similar to the sticker shock of the Clean Water Act, Rep. Copeland-Hanzas’s statement of doubt about costs to Vermont taxpayers seems lacking. The legislative and rule-making process that brought the $300 million dollar surprise price-tag to Rutland County property owners is the same process that is “vetting” this current bunch behemoth bills. If history is a teacher, we’d better hide our wallets.