Elizabeth Courtney

Environmental consultant

Former Executive Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council

In 1969 Vermonters responded to a land use crisis: Governor Deane Davis described it as “Rampant Growth” brought on by the expansion of the Interstate Highway System. His solution was to assemble the Gibb Commission that established the foundation for Act 250. Now, 45 years later, we have a different land use crisis, brought on by the urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels to cleaner, renewable sources of power. But the distributed nature of renewable energy generation presents a new set of land use challenges.

Today, we cannot escape the fact that any environmental or land use issue in the foreseeable future must be addressed in the context of how we power our lives. We have statewide goals to build a renewable energy portfolio that satisfies 90% of our clean energy needs by 2050. That means ramping up on efficiency and conservation in a big way. And it also means responding to the land use and environmental implications of distributed energy generation—solar, wind, geo- thermal and hydro—that we will soon rely on as primary sources of energy to power our homes, workplaces, schools, and vehicles. The hotly debated siting issues associated with these facilities must be addressed soon, so that we can meet our energy goals while honoring the longstanding policies and regulation that protect our natural and cultural resources.

It seems strikingly obvious that it is time to assemble the 21st century equivalent of the Gibb Commission to research and recommend ways in which we could coordinate and integrate a system of land use and energy planning and permitting in Vermont.

Elizabeth Courtney overlooking the village of Whiting, VT–a landscape view that demonstrates the land use pattern of compact village settlement surrounded by open working landscapes, long established as a hallmark of smart growth in Vermont. This pattern was a cornerstone issue during her tenure as Executive Director of the VNRC and continues to be an important environmental and energy policy to protect our forests, farm lands, and water resources while accommodating new growth in our town centers and downtowns.

Elizabeth Courtney overlooking the village of Whiting, VT–a landscape view that demonstrates the land use pattern of compact village settlement surrounded by open working landscapes, long established as a hallmark of smart growth in Vermont. This pattern was a cornerstone issue during her tenure as Executive Director of the VNRC and continues to be an important environmental and energy policy to protect our forests, farm lands, and water resources while accommodating new growth in our town centers and downtowns.