Wednesday, October 14, 2020

House Republican COVID Economic Stimulus Package Includes A ‘Deemed Approved’ Environmental Permit Approval Process

On October 14, House Republicans introduced a COVID Comeback legislative package which would establish special zones to provide taxpayer funded subsidies to encourage manufacturing through state and local tax abatement along with a variety of tax credits to incentivize job development.

In a bill to be introduced by Rep. Josh Kail (R-Beaver), the Commonwealth Financing Authority would be authorized to designate strategic and targeted zones in the state to be used as the base of operations for manufacturing. Businesses in those zones would receive tax abatements for state and local taxes and would be eligible for targeted job creation tax credits. 

A new bill by Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-Susquehanna), environmental applications before the Department of Environmental Protection would be deemed approved unless DEP shows evidence before a “neutral referee” [unnamed] that the application is not sufficient, the “permit would be deemed approved.”

Applications would qualify for the “deemed approved” provisions would have to be “accompanied by a professional engineer’s affidavit attesting to the sufficiency of the application.”

“For a permit or authorization that is not accompanied by an affidavit by a professional engineer, DEP would be required to render its decision within 45 days.’ 

The bill language is not yet available, but a cosponsor memo is by Rep. Fritz.


The idea of having permit applications speed through DEP environmental permit reviews with little or no review by DEP if there is a professional engineer attesting to the application is not a new idea.

Similar proposals for shortcutting the environmental permit review process and replacing DEP altogether with a five member commission to make permit decisions were part of an “Energize PA” economic development package introduced by House Republicans in 2019.  Read more here.

That idea, however, was debunked by House Republicans themselves in May 2019 hearings by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

House Republicans found 50 to 60 percent of permit applications that come in the door at conservation districts and at DEP are either incomplete or technically deficient.  Read more here.

Professional engineers submit those applications.

House Republicans also heard the Cumberland County Conservation District say it takes professional engineers an AVERAGE of 33 business days to respond to technical deficiencies-- more than six calendar weeks.  Read more here.

The conservation district and DEP have both said they spend a lot of time “handholding” consultants to correct applications and resubmit them so they meet environmental requirements.

At the House Republican hearing, the district also said, “We often hear from consultants and engineers that they just submitted what they had completed for review because of deadlines set by the applicant or other municipal reviews.” 

But, of course, it’s easier for House Republicans to ignore these facts from their own hearings.

Even with the COVID pandemic and with DEP teleworking, 94 percent of DEP’s permit applications within DEP’s Permit Decision Guarantee established by Republican Governors Tom Ridge and Tom Corbett.  Read more here.

That, of course, does not mean there isn’t room for improvement through real steps to speed permit reviews like electronic permitting, simplifying permit requirements, adopting more general permits-- all of which DEP is doing.

Having any system that allows a professional engineer or anyone attest to the adequacy of his or her own work as meeting environmental standards without an independent review of an environmental permit application by DEP is a really bad idea.

Adding more bureaucracy by injecting a “neutral referee” also seems like a really bad idea.

Click Here for the full House Republican announcement.

Related Article:

More Than Half Of E&S Permit Applications Submitted Are Incomplete; Consultants Take 6 Weeks To Respond To Deficiencies

[Posted: October 14, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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