Legislature Revamps DEC’s Environmental Permitting Process

Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) is responsible for reviewing and approving environmental permits for Vermont individuals and businesses.  DEC reviews hundreds of applications every year for everything from wetlands permits to stormwater construction permits.

During this year’s session, the Legislature made some big changes to DEC’s permitting process in Act 150, also known as S.123.  Though the changes don’t take effect for over a year, folks who might be thinking about getting a permit, or who might want to question a neighbor’s permit, ought to become familiar with the process now.

Act 150 streamlines DEC’s permitting process and attempts to increase public involvement in the permitting process by making several changes to the permitting process that will start in January 2018.

Currently DEC has dozens of processes for providing notice of various permits and allowing comment and review on the proposals. Act 150 narrows this down to five types of procedures (Types 1 through 5) based on the type of permit sought.  Some permits, such as certain wastewater system and potable water supply permits, are exempt from the new procedures.

DEC will be creating an online electronic environmental bulletin to make the notice and comment part of permitting more efficient and friendly to the public for the permits that fall under Act 150.  People interested in permitting activity in their area will be able to register on the bulletin website and get emails when permits are proposed in that area.  The public will have to be notified before an applicant requests a permit for a large project.  And for some permits, notice will still be sent to neighbors by mail as well as posted through the bulletin system.

This streamlined notice and comment process comes with some restrictions on appeal rights.  Beginning in 2018, if you want to challenge a DEC permit that falls under Act 150 you will have to submit comments during the comment period (usually 30 days) in order to be able to appeal to the Environmental Division.  And, when you appeal, you are only able to appeal issues related to the comments you made.  So challengers take note: much like with zoning permits at the town level, you’ll have to speak up at the DEC level if you want to speak up in court!