AN ACT RELATING TO RESTRUCTURING THE AGENCY OF NATURAL RESOURCES
It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:
Sec. 1. LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND PRINCIPLES
The general assembly finds:
(1) The lives of all Vermonters are affected by the agency of natural resources’ ability to carry out its duties to protect and responsibly manage Vermont’s precious natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations.
(2) The following obstacles currently prevent the agency of natural resources from consistently meeting its statutory obligations:
(A) Agency of natural resources programs in the three agency departments (the department of environmental conservation, the department of fish and wildlife, and the department of forests, parks and recreation) are not always sufficiently well integrated.
(B) A significant number of agency of natural resources staff work in regional offices throughout the state. These staff are familiar with and focused on meeting the unique natural resources challenges of their regions. However, there is also a need to ensure that the practices implemented in the regions are connected to basic agency-wide policies and to the agency management system. If coordination between regional and central agency staff is insufficient, inconsistent application of agency policies may result.
(C) The following examples attest to the challenges faced by the agency of natural resources in meeting state and federal statutory mandates in a timely manner:
(i) The agency has not completed the basin planning requirement in state and federal law.
(ii) The agency has not completed basic, minimal groundwater mapping for aquifers serving public water systems as required by state law.
(iii) The agency has not completed implementation of key components of the federal Clean Water Act, such as developing total maximum daily loads (TMDL) and developing an antidegradation implementation policy.
(D) Public and agency attention to simplifying and streamlining the permitting process for applicants should be accompanied by commensurate progress in measuring the effectiveness of the regulatory process in protecting the interests of others and in determining and tracking the status and the health of the natural resources that it is the agency’s mission to protect.
(E) The problems faced by the agency of natural resources may be the result of a lack of agency resources, complex and interwoven statutory programs established at different times and often in response to different federal laws, restrictions on the use of federal funds, an inefficient allocation of existing resources, inefficiencies in the agency management structure, or any combination of these and other factors.
(F) Currently, there is not a clear and consistent connection between the agency’s own policy, planning, and implementation work and core environmental issues that are being addressed to some degree by other state agencies (including state long-range transportation planning, energy planning, and planning to address global climate change).
(3) Good policy and planning are vital to any large agency’s ability to efficiently carry out its responsibilities. The agency’s planning and policy efforts must be well connected, based on the law, and communicated to the staff who implement these policies. The agency’s internal policy must be coordinated with planning efforts in the individual departments.
(4) The agency must have a clear, well articulated vision to implement the state’s environmental policy as established by law. This must be done in a manner that connects to the work of all the departments and guides staff implementation.
Sec. 2. RESTRUCTURING PROCESS
(a) A statewide advisory group, the Natural Resources Re-organization Committee (NRRC), is created to advise the secretary on the design of a restructured agency. It shall consist of no more than 13 members, who shall be appointed as follows: two members of the house appointed by the Speaker of the House, two members of the senate appointed by the President Pro Tem; nine members appointed by the secretary of natural resources, in consultation with the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem, as follows: one representing regulated business and development interests; one representing environmental organizations; one representing fish and wildlife interests; one representing the interests of forests and parks; one representing recreational interests; one representing local government; one representing the regional planning commissions; one representing the Vermont State Employees Association; and one representing citizens’ groups. Appointments shall be made no later than June 15, 2005, and shall be for terms of one year.
(1) The secretary shall convene the first meeting of NRRC no later than July 1, 2005, at which point the committee shall select its own officers.
(2) The NRRC shall hold public hearings with respect to the functions of the agency, and the issues identified in this act, in each of the agency’s five administrative districts, provide public notice of each public hearing, and inform the secretary and the legislative committees on natural resources and energy and on government operations of their recommendations.
(3) The NRRC shall establish a process to solicit input from agency staff. For purposes of this act only, the provisions of the collective bargaining contract article on whistle blower, as printed in the agreements between the State of Vermont and the Vermont State Employees’ Association, are extended to all employees in the agency not covered by these agreements.
(4) Members of the NRRC not receiving compensation for service on the advisory group from another source are entitled to compensation under section 1010 of Title 32.
(b) The secretary shall engage in the following process as preliminary steps in a potential restructuring of the agency:
(1) In order to implement state environmental policy for the benefit of current and future generations, the secretary, with the assistance of a consultant and in consultation with the NRRC, shall:
(A) Collaborate with agency staff, advocacy groups, other state agencies, municipalities, and other stakeholders to receive input on organizational models and the design of the agency. This process may include focus groups, public meetings, newsletters, surveys, and the use of a website.
(B) Collaborate with agency staff, advocacy groups, other state agencies, municipalities, and other stakeholders to determine specific accountability indicators needed to measure agency restructuring, both with respect to the reallocation of agency resources and personnel, but also with respect to the agency’s ability to perform its duties to protect the state’s natural resources.
(C) Examine areas where consultation may be needed, such as information technology design, federal cost allocation, and organizational development.
(D) Identify and implement staff development programs necessary to assist the agency staff to carry out their responsibilities in the restructured agency.
(2) The secretary shall examine functions, such as administrative support and supervision, and space requirements necessary to ensure the agency’s ability to be responsive and helpful to permit applicants, neighbors, and others interested in and affected by the permitting process.
(3) On or before January 15, 2006, the secretary shall prepare a draft report on restructuring, provide the draft report to the NRRC for review and comments, make any appropriate revisions to the draft report, and submit a final report to the legislative committees on natural resources and energy and on government operations and to the house committee on fish, wildlife and water resources.
(A) The report shall contain recommendations to restructure the agency, and a progress report on the procedures followed and on administrative actions that have been taken or that are being taken to complete the process. The report shall list persons and organizations who have participated in the process, and shall include:
(i) Identification of resources and agency action that would be required to implement fully and adequately state and federal natural resources law.
(ii) A plan for making the agency’s permit process, enforcement actions, planning, and other functions more accessible in order to be more effective, efficient, transparent, integrated, and accountable. This shall include resources required and a recommended time frame needed for implementation of the plan;
(iii) Accountability mechanisms to ensure that alleged permit violations are forwarded to the agency’s enforcement division, that there is a sufficient enforcement presence to give the natural resources the protection anticipated by the pertinent underlying legislation and that those who do not comply with the law are not given an unfair advantage over those who do;
(iv) Provision of policy guidance from the agency’s planning efforts to coordinate between the agency’s departments and divisions in a manner that protects the state’s resources while responding to legitimate interests of applicants and others involved in the permitting process;
(B) The report shall include any draft legislation necessary to eliminate contradictions that have been identified to date in existing statutes, and to allow progress in any reorganization proposed by the agency;
(C) The report shall explain the anticipated budgetary impacts and transitional costs of the proposed restructuring; and
(D) The report shall include recommendations for improving coordination of functions that are shared with, or that overlap with, those of other state agencies and units of local government.
Sec. 3. APPROPRIATION
The sum of $50,000.00 is appropriated from the general fund to the agency of natural resources in fiscal year 2006 for the purpose of hiring a consultant‑facilitator to assist in implementation of this act.
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street