Thursday, August 23, 2012

Opinion: DEP Is Fine-Tuning Environmental Permit Process

By Mike Krancer, Secretary, Department of Environmental Protection

Gov. Tom Corbett promised to bring reform to the way government operates in Pennsylvania. Good government means the efficient delivery of government services, which includes permitting decisions by the Department of Environmental Protection.

There is no question that DEP and the public we serve saw room for improvement. Our own review confirmed it.
We have to start with insisting upon top-quality permit applications from businesses, nonprofit organizations, local governments and these groups’ consultants. That is an important basis and starting point of the governor’s recently signed executive order, upon which DEP will build the permit guarantee process.
It is an important point that much commentary on the [decision guarantee] executive order has missed. Our study of applications and permit procedures revealed that about 40 percent of permit applications submitted to DEP are deficient, meaning information important to making a decision was missing.
In addition, a former DEP secretary reported that of about 125,000 permits or authorizations issued from 1995 to 2002, less than two dozen “money-back guarantee” refunds were issued [Editor: under the 1995 Money-Back Guarantee Permit Review Program].
So permits were being issued, eventually, but only after months or years of the merry-go-round of taking applications “off the clock” and then back “on the clock” and then back “off the clock” — until finally, they were ready for a decision to be made.  [Editor’s Note: The Rendell Administration ignored and gamed the Money-Back Permit Guarantee Program established under the Ridge Administration.  In addition, the Rendell Administration cut hundreds of positions from DEP.]
Often, DEP permit review personnel spent much time doing the work for applicants to get their applications to the “complete” stage. That process caused frustration internally and externally and, importantly, wastes the time of DEP personnel and the public we serve.
The draft permit decision guarantee policy document that will be published for public comment is being developed by DEP personnel at all levels who have done permitting work for years.
The new process will free DEP personnel from the merry-go-round and allow them to spend more of their time reviewing quality, complete permit applications and concentrate on protecting the environment. The system will work better, and the environment will be better protected.
At the same time, the process will deliver to the regulated community a more predictable and efficient manner of permit application review and decision. The draft policy, which comes from the executive order, will be built upon four core principles:
-- Complete and quality permit applications are crucial to DEP’s ability to guarantee a timely decision;
-- Every full and complete permit application will receive a thorough review in an efficient manner;
-- DEP will not issue any permit that does not meet all legal and statutory requirements to protect the environment and public health and safety; and
-- DEP will make decisions based on the law, facts and sound science.
We encourage the public and all stakeholders to give it a fair and open-minded review and offer feedback to us once it is published for public comment. 

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