By Lawrence Zupan
My first impulse upon hearing of an American seeking to put one stick upon another to build, or put cash on the line to open a business, is to stand and cheer him or her on. After all, isn’t this precisely what has enabled America to grow great and expand? Has it not been pioneers crossing a new frontier no matter the risk and uncertainty of success? Yesterday it was the Pilgrims crossing a forbidding ocean and covered wagons moving west. Today it might be biotechnical geniuses unlocking new cures, or digital pioneers multiplying the inventive potential of ever more efficient computing.
Or it might be a few guys with saws and hammers looking to build new homes and buildings in Vermont.
Act 250 was conceived as a regulatory instrument promoted as a measure designed to enhance environmental stewardship and conservation of Vermont’s character and natural resources. It was not explicitly promoted as a job-killing, liberty-and-private-property-stealing power grab. I’ll leave it to others to detail, 50 years on, the degree to which it has succeeded in its stated mission and at what opportunity cost.
However, I will tell you my experience with Act 250, which will explain why I was initially happy to hear of its grandly announced effort at “reform.”
Almost 30 years ago I bought an approximately 100 acre parcel of land in southern Vermont, with the intent to arrange several building lots on it, put in roads and power, prepare home sites and sell them. Rather than being welcomed as an entrepreneur willing to put my money on the line to produce suitable sites for families to live, I was treated with the inquisitorial suspicion and interrogation which might normally be reserved for criminal perpetrators. I was informed by that exalted Act 250 Commission that 36 of my 96 acres would need to be banned from human habitation and left to lie fallow due to evidence that deer used the land. Mind you, this property stared a short distance across the valley at hundreds of thousands of acres of the Green Mountain National Forest.
So, what happened was that the economic value of more than one third of my land was seized by the state (they told me not to complain, since they could have taken more than half) for the sake of an abundant animal species which also had abundant land to inhabit nearby. This was an unconstitutional seizure under my Fifth Amendment rights. After spending almost $100,000 in permitting and legal fees, and two years of two permit applications, the Act 250 Commission, in its infinite wisdom and manifestly unlimited power, begrudgingly granted me the privilege to have 10 lots on my almost 100 acres.
Since when do we treat investors, builders and entrepreneurs with suspicion rather than a warm welcome? Since when does the state have apparent rights over private property which chronically and dictatorially far exceed the rights of the actual property owner? Since when do we sanction unelected bureaucrats to wield such power over rightful property owners?
Because of my experience, as well as my observation for all these 30 years of Act 250 in action, I was naively happy to hear of the proposed Act 250 reform. However, in true government-speak, it appears that this supposed “reform” has turned out to be an opportunity not to humanize and refine the burdensome property regulations of Act 250, but, on the contrary, to make them more onerous. Using the nefariously ubiquitous evil of carbon as their politically acceptable bogeyman, it seems that what is now being proposed is that every new Vermont project must be “carbon neutral.” I have news for all legislators examining this issue: The only time that humans will be carbon neutral is when they are dead. And, if current events are any guideline, even then these human culprits (formerly beings exuding carbon with their presumptuous breathing habit) may become subject to governmental sanctions for their corpses emitting carbon.
In addition, the new proposal demanding that all new project proponents must buy the diabolically and destructively clever shell game sham called “carbon credits” is just the latest form of punishment for any Vermonter who might still have the effrontery to want to build or create something in our previously proudly free and independent state. With small rural Vermont already the greenest state in the union, adding more onerous regulations will only give environmentalism a reputation as thinly veiled, wanton and arbitrary anti-capitalism and offer a new meaning to the phrase “tilting at windmills.”
My friends, unlike bureaucrats who propose these rules and apparently inhabit an alternate world where progress and productivity are completely disconnected from livelihoods and economic well-being, you and I know that producing more anti-business regulations will be one more wilted rose adorning the casket of Vermont’s already negative business and growth reputation and record.
Anyone who has ever worked for a living knows that creative productivity is the foundational element of American and Vermont human growth and progress. Let the word go forth that Vermont is open for business, and that everyone with a new idea is welcome to come here and plant the seeds of their future success in our newly hospitable soil.
It’s time for us to demand true regulatory reform of Act 250. It’s time to put our legislators on notice that new building, new business and new industry are not our enemies, but the very elements which will put food on the tables of Vermonters, and keep our young graduates from fleeing to fairer climes where growth and economic vitality are not dirty words.
And there will still be plenty of room for the deer.
Lawrence Zupan is a resident of Manchester and was the 2018 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.