Thursday, August 30, 2012

DEP Releases Draft Permit Review Policy For Comment Proposing A No Strikes Rule

The Department of Environmental Protection has submitted for publication in the September 1 PA  Bulletin drafts of its Permit Review Process and Decision Guarantee and Permit Coordination policies covering over 244 mining (coal and noncoal), oil and gas, air quality, waste, storage tank, drinking water, water quality, dam safety, erosion and sedimentation control and water obstruction and encroachment permits and approvals.
The policies are open for public comment until October 1.
The policies implement Gov. Corbett’s July 24 Permit Decision Guarantee Executive Order, outlining the process DEP will use to guarantee an efficient timeframe in which the agency will make a decision on complete permit applications and authorizations.
“Gov. Corbett promised to reform how government operates in Pennsylvania,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “Good government means the efficient delivery of services, and that includes DEP permitting decisions. This process asks everyone to do a better job: DEP, businesses, non-profit organizations, local governments and consultants who work for these groups.”
DEP studied applications and permit procedures and discovered that about 40 percent of permit applications submitted to DEP are deficient, meaning they lack full information needed for DEP’s permit reviewers to make a sound decision.
“That creates a waste of everyone’s time,” Krancer said.
[Editor: DEP’s study of the existing permit process mentioned in this release and in an op-ed piece last week has not been released to the public.]
Under the new process, if a permit application is deficient—requiring it to be returned twice—DEP may deny it.
“Setting the clear expectation that every permit application should be correct and complete the first time is the key to efficiency on both sides,” Krancer said. “We need to free our staff from what amounts to a merry-go-round of reviewing deficient applications; returning them to the applicants; and, essentially, doing applicants’ work to make the applications shipshape.”
An important feature of the Permit Review Process and Decision Guarantee is that it strongly encourages applicants to arrange pre-application meetings with DEP to discuss the agency’s expectations during the permitting process and learn their obligations as applicants. It also prioritizes the order in which permits are reviewed.
“The Permit Review Process and Decision Guarantee enables our staff to do their main job of concentrating on protecting the environment and making decisions. At the same time, it gives the regulated community a more predictable and efficient permit application review and decision process,” Krancer said. “We encourage the public and all stakeholders to review the draft policies and offer feedback to us.”
The companion Permit Coordination policy outlines how staff should coordinate projects that require multiple permits. DEP staff will review the policies’ effectiveness annually and make any necessary adjustments. The agency plans to develop electronic permitting tools to further improve the process.
Permit Review Priorities
The draft policy sets priorities for reviewing applications by DEP and would eliminate any “first-in-first-out” review policies unless required by law.  The proposed priorities include--
1. Applications for projects necessary for the protection of public health, safety and the
2. Applications for projects necessary for economic development;  
3. Applications within Permit Decision Guarantee;
4. Those applications that have been excluded from the Permit Decision Guarantee but are
necessary for economic development projects that create jobs and enhance communities;
5. Lastly, any remaining applications will be reviewed on a “first-in-first-out” basis.
No Strikes Rule
The draft policy says that only permit applications determined to be complete and without technical deficiencies will be covered by the permit decision guarantee.  If technical deficiencies are found in the permit application during the technical review, the deficiencies will void the permit decision guarantee.
Applicants will have one opportunity to correct the deficiencies DEP identifies in a deficiency letter and a deadline is established for responding to the deficiency letter.  If the applicant’s response corrects the deficiencies, the application will then be subject to what DEP calls an Elevated Review Process where DEP sets a new deadline for decisions.

DEP will host two web-based information sessions about the draft policies, with time for questions and answers, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on September 5, and September 10.
To register for the webinars, review the draft policies, read the Frequently Asked Questions fact sheet and executive order, visit DEP’s Permit Decision Guarantee webpage.

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