Energy & Environment

Chairman of state Natural Resources Board leaving

The chair of the state Natural Resources Board is leaving his post, just as the administration is calling for budget cuts and a shift of some of the board’s back-office functions.

Ron Shems, chair of the independent environmental review board that oversees Act 250 land use and development permits, announced his resignation Tuesday, effective Feb. 6. He led the board for the past four years.

“The governor wants to explore consolidating the NRB into the agency. This new chapter provides a clean point where I can move on,” Shems said. “I think we have made enormous progress with Act 250.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin is asking the board to move certain administrative responsibilities, such as billing and other clerical functions, to the Agency of Natural Resources in an effort to cut $200,000 from the 2016 budget.

Shems chaired the five-member board when the state adopted new restrictions on strip development, which he supported. He will be replaced by Jon Groveman, general counsel for the Agency of Natural Resources.

The state is facing a $112 million budget gap for fiscal year 2016. The Agency of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board must submit a plan to transfer the board’s administrative functions into the agency to achieve at least $200,000 in savings by March 31, according to the governor’s budget proposal. The board has a $3.2 million annual budget.

Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson said consolidation is the wrong word for the proposed changes. He said the board could save more money if the agency did more of its back-office business work, such as paperwork and paying bills, for example. He said much of the board’s administrative functions overlap with the Agency of Natural Resources.

Natural Resources Board chairs are appointed by the governor to four-year terms, but the board operates independently. The agency is frequently a party in cases heard by the board.

“We want to keep the independence of the programmatic side of the board,” Johnson said.

According to Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, the changes are not political. She said she did not know the proposal was in the budget until it was pointed out to her.

“It came out of conversation we had about the need to find efficiencies and save money,” Markowitz said. “If the new chair thinks it necessary to achieve the savings, we would be providing additional administrative services.”

Groveman, Shems’ replacement, also served as general counsel for the Vermont Natural Resources Council; executive director of the Vermont Water Resources Board; director of the Law Center for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns; and as an Act 250 land use attorney with the agency in the 1990s, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to lead a program that is vital to protecting what is so special about Vermont, our vibrant village and city centers, farms and forests, and to move the Act 250 program forward as Vermont faces new opportunities and challenges as we continue grow our economy,” Groveman said in a statement.

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John Herrick

About John

John Herrick joined VTDigger in June 2013 as an intern working on the searchable campaign finance database and is now VTDigger's energy and environment reporter. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. He wrote for the Vermont Cynic, university’s student newspaper, before interning and later freelancing for the Burlington Free Press.

Email: [email protected]

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