After two days of debate, the house passed a bill facilitating the siting of land based wind facilities. The vote was 101 to 52 and I voted in the majority.
There was strong opposition from affected communities in western Massachusetts and on the Cape — the mountains and coastal areas are the best sites for wind facilities. Local opposition to highly visible wind facilities is understandable, but I do believe that overly complex permitting procedures are slowing our national transition to renewable energy sources.
There were two basic arguments that I evaluated particularly carefully in considering this bill. The first concern was that the bill would abrogate local authority. In fact, it does preserve local control. It requires municipalities to identify a single authority which will issue a comprehensive permit, but does not allow state bureaucrats to overrule a denial. The only appeal of a denial is to the courts (as it would be today). If the abutters wish to appeal a local approval, they can appeal to the state and the state can only strengthen (not weaken) locally imposed conditions. Further appeal of a local approval in the courts is permitted.
The second argument is a subtler one — that the streamlining would result in a weakening of wetlands protection, by eliminating the exclusive enforcement role of the conservation commissions, which tend to be strong enforcers of those laws. This is a fair concern, but there are some mitigating factors. The consolidated local permitting authority must apply local bylaws. specifically including wetlands bylaws, and also must consult with other local boards.
At the state level, there is also a consolidated process for addressing state permits. That process is to be governed by standards that are supposed to reflect wetlands concerns. Granted, a body created by gubernatorial appointment is responsible for the development of those standards and so their strength may be effected by administration views.
The interaction of state wetlands law with the process remained unclear to me in the draft. The language of the bill was in flux throughout the process — unually messy for reasons that are unclear. The final language differs from the Senate’s previously passed language, so a conference committee will be necessary to resolve differences. If a committee is appointed (as opposed to letting the bill die) and it is able to reach agreement, the final conference report is likely to look rather different. The fate of the bill remains unclear.
Not a simple issue, but I felt that the bill struck something like the right balance between respecting local and environmental concerns and allowing the state to make progress on a central priority.