In a letter dated February 24, the Department of Environmental Protection submitted a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how it will address concerns EPA raised about staffing inadequacies in Pennsylvania’s Safe Drinking Water Program.
DEP’s proposal is to increase permit review fees and adopt a new annual permit administration fee to fund approximately 33 new positions no longer covered by state General Fund monies to make sure Pennsylvania continues to meet minimum Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.
Given the way DEP must go about adopting a fee increase and hire new staff, it may take until 2020 of any new staff to become fully effective.
DEP has been working on the $7.5 million fee increase package with its advisory committees since November.
Under the timetable laid out by DEP, accounting for the 18 to 24 months it takes to get the fee increases through the state’s regulatory review process, DEP estimates it could begin hiring new staff in September 2018, according to the letter.
“Until such time as the final rulemaking is promulgated and new staff is brought on board and gain adequate experience, DEP will continue to prioritize inspections over other work within the program.”
Again, according to the letter, new staff are not considered adequately trained until they have “at least two years of experience” (emphasis DEP’s), so it could be until late 2020 when the new staff could fully contribute to helping the Safe Drinking Water Program.
The letter points out, “It is important to note that these problems did not manifest abruptly. Since 2009, DEP program staffing levels have steadily declined. In 2009, the SDW [Safe Drinking Water] Program employed 84 sanitarians [field inspectors]. Today, the number of sanitarians is down by more than 25 percent at 61 [including 7 vacancies]”
DEP also points out each sanitarian now on staff has responsibility for 158 public water supplies. The national average is 67, less than half the systems DEP sanitarians must oversee.
DEP said it will provide EPA with quarterly updates on its progress in adopting the fee increase package.
The letter was signed by Lisa Daniels, Director of DEP’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water.
A copy of the letter is available online.
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