March E-News from VNRC – and mid-session update!

The Newsletter
Between progress toward an Environmental Justice law in Vermont, a historic US Supreme Court nomination, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s been a momentous week for Vermont, the nation, and the world. Read on for updates — and don’t forget today is town Meeting Day!
March E-Newsletter from VNRC
Latest news…
— Today is Town Meeting Day — Polls are open until 7pm. Find your polling place at
— Solidarity with Ukraine, and the connection to energy independence — We  stand with the Ukrainian people, and are deeply grieved by Russia’s senseless acts of violence. In addition to the humanitarian crisis, we are seeing the economic fallout of the world’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels. Fossil fuels not only endanger our climate security, but our economic and political security as well. The need to transition to clean energy is more urgent than ever.
— Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court — We applaud President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. This historic nomination is a step forward for racial justice and equity, and the fight to uphold important wins for climate, the environment, and voting rights for decades to come. We hope the Senate will quickly confirm Judge Jackson.
— A victory for natural resource protections at the Vermont Supreme Court — Last month, we helped to secure an important victory in the Vermont Supreme Court. VNRC’s General Counsel, Jamey Fidel, argued in front of the Court in support of reversing a previous decision that would have weakened Act 250, Vermont’s primary land use law. After hearing new oral arguments, the court issued a new decision which upholds Act 250 as it has been rightly applied for the last 50 years. Read more here and below.
— Picking up the pace of dam removal — Vermont tied Pennsylvania and Oregon for the most dam removals per state in 2021, according to this report by American Rivers. We are moving full steam ahead, with a project in the works to remove Connolly Pond Dam in Shrewsbury and at least 20 projects in consideration over the next few years. Read more about the benefits of Dam Removal at
— A big month for Smart Growth — In February, we awarded three Small Grants for Smart Growth, in Lyndon, Brattleboro & New Haven! Covering transportation, public art, and community revitalization, these projects all help Vermonters lend their voices to shaping the future of their communities. Read more below.
— An important ruling from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) — Last month, the PUC ruled against GlobalFoundries’ request to skirt the Renewable Energy Standard, energy efficiency requirements, and the Global Warming Solutions Act. Such a move would have significantly set us back in our efforts to combat climate change. Learn more in this episode of the Climate Dispatch, where Chase Whiting, Staff Attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, speaks about the victory.
 Vermonters recognize the major impacts of climate change — To what extent do you think climate change will affect life in Vermont over the next 30 years? This question was posed in a recent poll by VPR and Vermont PBS, and 58% of you answered “major impact.” We agree, and are working to swiftly and equitably implement the recommendations of the Vermont Climate Action Plan. Continue reading for updates on some of the most impactful legislation being considered this session.
Our priorities at a glance…
— Environmental Justice law unanimously moves forward — Last week, on a 5-0-0 bipartisan vote, the Vermont Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee advances S.148 – An Act Relating to Environmental Justice in Vermont. This law would take steps to enshrine Vermont’s commitment to environmental justice so that all Vermonters can access and enjoy clean, affordable energy, clean air and water, 21st century transportation options, our natural resources, and much more. Learn more here and below.
— Environmental Common Agenda — Last month, our partners at Vermont Conservation Voters released the 2022 Environmental Common Agenda. The agenda unites many partner organizations behind a concerted effort to improve Vermont’s climate resilience, protect Vermonters from toxic pollution, and create a more just and affordable clean energy economy. Find the Common Agenda here.
— Mid-session update on our priorities — In addition to the unanimous vote to move forward the environmental justice bill, we have a lot of progress to report on the Clean Heat Standard, the Transportation Innovation Act, promotion of old forest growth, conservation of critical wildlife habitat, and strengthening protections for clean water. Find more details at the end of this email and tune in Friday at noon for a live Climate Dispatch with many of our partners:
Connect and learn…
— VECAN 2022 Workshop Series: Tomorrow at noon — The Vermont Energy & Climate Action Network (VECAN) is hosting a series of workshops to help build capacity for Town Energy Committees and those looking to get involved in local energy solutions. The next session is tomorrow at noon: GreenSavingSmart – An Overview of the New Statewide Financial & Energy Coaching ProgramFind recordings of past webinars here and register for upcoming sessions here.
— Climate Action and Resilience in Vermont Webinar Series — Our work on water, forests, sustainable communities, and of course clean energy, also helps to improve Vermont’s resilience to climate change. If you’ve missed our first three webinars on these key intersecting issues, find the recordings here. We will be holding sessions focused on the climate overlap with forests, transportation, environmental justice and more in the coming weeks.
— Save the date: Wild & Scenic Film Festival: April 28 — One of our most popular events, we’re looking forward to hosting the film festival virtually for the third year in a row. As much as we loved the in-person festivities before the pandemic, the virtual festival allows us to connect with many more Vermonters, and friends and family out of state as well. Stay tuned for more info soon!
Find more details below…

Vermont Supreme Court reaffirms critical Act 250 protections
In November, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a decision that would have weakened Act 250 oversight in nearly half of Vermont’s towns. VNRC responded to the decision, and helped persuade the court to hear new oral arguments in the case, including from VNRC General Counsel, Jamey Fidel, and seven former Chairs of the Natural Resources Board (and the former Environmental Board), which  oversees the administration of Act 250.
Our advocacy and expertise paid off! In a rare reversal, the court issued a new decision, which upholds the original intent of the law, and clarifies how commercial development should be reviewed by Act 250 in municipalities that do not have permanent zoning and subdivision regulations.

“This is consistent with years of administration, and the legislative history we reviewed, and we believe the Court got it right,” said Fidel.
Read our concerns about the courts initial decision here, and our comments on the recent clarification here.

Small Grants for Smart Growth Awarded in Lyndon, Brattleboro & New Haven
2022 is gearing up to be a busy year for local smart growth projects across the state.
“Taste of Lyndon,” Lyndon: This community engagement event will host eateries in downtown Lyndon that community members and visitors must reach by foot or wheel. Participants will provide feedback based on this experience to share what they love about downtown, what could be improved, and what mobility challenges they encountered in moving through the space. Feedback from the event will help to inform future efforts through Lyndon’s Better Connections project.
High Street Renewal, Brattleboro: Epsilon Spires, a Southern VT non-profit, will be leading a community driven project to transform a graffitied wall in downtown Brattleboro into an inspiring mural representing the unique local culture of the region. Keep an eye out for events throughout the summer for an opportunity to share your idea for the mural, or to help with a paintbrush!
A Train Depot’s Second Life, New Haven: The historic New Haven Junction Train Depot, built in 1868, was recently rescued after it needed to be removed from its original home on the tracks. The New Haven Planning Commission is seeking input from community members as to the depot’s best new use at it’s new spot in the village center; a survey will be distributed in English and Spanish to help inform decision-making.
Have a Smart Growth idea for your community? Learn more here

Advancing Environmental Justice in Vermont
Last week, the Vermont Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee unanimously advanced S.148 – An Act Relating to Environmental Justice in Vermont out of committee on a 5-0-0 vote.
This is a big step toward codifying our commitment to environmental justice in Vermont law. This law would ensure that all Vermonters can equally participate in the decisions that impact the environmental health of their communities, and can equitably access and enjoy clean, affordable energy, clean air and water, modern transportation options, and our natural resources. There is more work ahead to move this bill through the legislature and ensure it receives full funding. We will keep you updated on these efforts, but today we celebrate this milestone.
In the words of the bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, “So many people who consider themselves stewards and caretakers of the land and their communities have felt left out of the environmental movement. This brings us one step closer to finding the light at the crossroads between the environmental and social justice movements, particularly in a rural state like ours. Onward!”
Learn more in our latest Climate Dispatch.
Map: Qing Ren and Bindu Panikkar (2021), Vermont Environmental Disparity Index, University of Vermont

A mid-session update on priority legislation
The Clean Heat Standard (H.715) advanced out of the House Energy & Technology Committee on a 7-2 vote, and now moves to the House Appropriations Committee. The Clean Heat Standard is a key recommendation of the Climate Action Plan, and can help us transition to cleaner, more affordable heating options.

The Transportation Innovation Act (H.552) contains initiatives that are still being heard by the House Transportation Committees. Transportation is another critical element to strengthening Vermont’s climate resilience. Read VNRC Energy & Climate Program Director, Johanna Miller’s commentary on getting Vermont to a Clean Transportation System here.
Thanks to all of you who reached out to your reps last week in favor of passing H.697 – An act relating to eligibility of reserve forestland for enrollment in the Use Value Appraisal Program. We’re happy to report that the amendment to promote the enrollment of old forests in the program was approved by the House on an 83-43 vote.
We continue to support two important conservation initiatives: H.606 – An act relating to community resilience and biodiversity protection, which would conserve 30% of our lands and waters by 2030, and H.273 – An act relating to promoting racial and social equity in land access and property ownership, which would promote racial and social equity in land access and property ownership, an important complement to the Environmental Justice bill.
Progress was also made on updating Act 250 – Vermont’s landmark development law. On Friday, the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee passed S.234, which would amend Act 250 to promote housing in smart growth areas and maintain intact forests, on a 4-1 vote. In addition, the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee passed a bill that would strengthen the Act 250 program’s ability to administer the review of natural resource impacts by bringing back an independent Environmental Review Board (H.492) on a vote of 8-3.
Finally, a clean water bill to create a registry for water withdrawals, and build a permit program to protect water levels in Vermont’s surface waters (H.466 – An act relating to surface water withdrawals and interbasin transfers), passed the House, and is now moving to the Senate.
We will continue to keep you updated as these bills move forward!
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