Tuesday, November 18, 2014

DEP CAC Adopts Transition Report-Pt. 1, Advisory Committee Recommendations

DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council Tuesday adopted Part 1 of an expected two part Transition Report to the incoming Wolf Administration as well as a set of recommendations for improving DEP Advisory Committee interactions.
Acting DEP Secretary Dana Aunkst told Council his agency will finish projects it has underway during the transition to a new Governor, including the report on radiation in natural gas development and distribution (TENORM), issuing policies needed to implement House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) relating to stream buffers, making changes to Air Quality GP-5 related to natural gas operations prompted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, considering recommended changes from the PA Supreme Court decision last December overturning part of the Act 13 drilling act and finalizing the long-term Southwest PA Marcellus Shale air monitoring study.
Aunkst said DEP’s own transition report to the incoming Administration is nearly completed and will be sent to the Governor’s Office.  As of the Council meeting, Aunkst said he had not be contacted by anyone on the Wolf Transition Team.
Transition Report - Part 1
Part 1 of the Council’s Transition Report deals with issues related to DEP leadership challenges, public credibility and public involvement and multi-state regional cooperation.  Among the recommendations were--
-- Selection of Senior Staff: The Report noted the selection of the Secretary and senior staff is among the most significant environmental decisions facing the Governor-elect.  Among other qualities, the Council said the Secretary should have experience in managing complex organizations, have the ability to both listen and lead and be capable of establishing and implementing long-term agency goals.
-- Aging Workforce: Council said one of the most significant staff issues the new Administration will face is the age of the DEP workforce.  Fully 30 percent of DEP staff will be eligible for retirement in the next four years challenging DEP to retain institutional knowledge, train new staff and retrain existing staff.
-- Information Technology: The Report credited DEP with making significant strides in using information technology to administer its programs, in particular geographic information systems.  However, the agency remains far behind private enterprises in using IT systems to do much of its permit and reporting work.  Increasing the use of information technology will not only make the agency more efficient, it will improve transparency by giving the public easier access to important agency information.
-- Frank Discussion Of Budget/Staff Cuts: Over the past 12 years, state and federal funding to support DEP programs have been cut significantly, the report pointed out.  Over $2.3 billion in environmental funding has been cut or diverted to other uses.  At the same time the number of DEP staff positions have been reduced by nearly 20 percent during that same time hitting some programs, particularly those related to water quality, very hard.
Council said now is the time for a “full, frank and systematic discussion” of the agency’s budgetary and programmatic future.  “The Department cannot continue to shoulder a myriad of mandates and commitments without the resources necessary to frame appropriate standards, thoughtfully review required permits, and put “boots on the ground” to assure ongoing compliance.
“To this end, the Council recommends that the Department’s senior leadership, in consultation with CAC, undertake a systematic program performance and efficiency review of all major DEP programs.
“This evaluation should include consideration of (1) what the agency is mandated to do under currently applicable statutes and regulations, (2) what the agency is currently doing (and the degree to which that meets current mandates), (3) how the program measures its performance, and whether those measurements include appropriate environmental quality indicators (e.g., not just counting number of inspections conducted, but rather what trends are evidenced in water and air quality), and (4) identification of gaps and areas for improvement, with recommendations for program adjustments that can be made to improve delivery of environmental quality.”
-- Renew Public Trust In DEP: “There is little doubt that public confidence in the Department’s commitment and competence with respect to environmental protection and implementation of environmental programs is critical to its ability to perform its mission and address new challenges.”  But public trust must be earned, Council said.
“One aspect of public confidence building involves an open door to all stakeholders, and indeed a concerted fostering of dialogue between and among such stakeholders.  The public distrusts policies which are perceived to be developed behind closed doors, or through a dialogue with only limited perspectives at the table.”
-- Make More Effective Use Of Advisory Committees: Separately, the Council Tuesday adopted a series of recommendations on improving the use of agency Advisory Committees which were incorporated into the Transition Report.
The Advisory Committee Report included recommendations in these areas: reviewing Advisory Committee responsibilities to identify gaps and overlaps; establish a schedule for periodically reviewing existing regulation, technical guidance and programs to make them more effective; establish and share best practices between the Committees to ensure they are all treated the same way; and apply the existing Advisory Committee technical guidance to all advisory groups formally created by the Department.
-- Rebuilding Bipartisan Support For Environmental Programs: “As former Secretary Maurice Goddard expressed the point, there is no such thing as a Republican forest fire or a Democratic flood.  Almost all of the major environmental legislation now on the books was the result of broad support across the aisles in both houses of the General Assembly.
“Improving environmental quality should not be a divisive, partisan issue.  Tackling environmental issues – be they legacy mine drainage or air quality challenges, water supply infrastructure or stormwater – requires long-term commitments, and such commitments to be successful must be built and sustained irrespective of which party might be in the majority.
“Part of the challenge for the Department’s new leadership will be endeavoring to rebuild that bipartisan approach.”
-- Multi-State Regional Cooperation: Noting environmental media like air and water do not honor human-made boundaries, the Council said DEP’s leadership should do more to foster regional cooperation in dealing with issues like drill cuttings and wastewater from oil and gas operations, regional ozone pollution issues and the state’s major river basins.
The final version of the Transition Report Part 1 will be posted on the Council’s webpage.
Part 2 of the Transition Report will identify issues the Council believes the new Administration should focus on over the next four years.  Among the initial issues identified were: allocation of a proposed natural gas severance tax to environmental programs, climate change, water and wastewater infrastructure, on-lot sewage systems program improvements,  implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed cleanup commitments and addressing the state’s abandoned mine lands.
The Transition Report is being developed by the Policy and Regulatory Oversight Committee of Council headed by Tim Weston.
Advisory Committee Recommendations
The report Council adopted Tuesday on improving the effectiveness of agency Advisory Committees was based on significant input from the Committees themselves.
The Public Participation Committee of Council received responses to a survey it conducted from 18 of DEP’s 22 Advisory Committee asking them to evaluate their interaction with DEP, whether their advice was taken seriously by the agency and the level of administrative support the Committees received.
Overall, the responses were very positive with the Committee Chairs saying they felt their advice was carefully considered by the agency and the Committees were adequately supported.
Council also invited Advisory Committee Chairs to a roundtable discussion after the Council’s October meeting to have a live discussion of issues of concern to the Committees. Recommendations in the report include--
-- Identifying Gaps And Redundancy: The responsibilities of existing Advisory Committees should be reviewed to identify gaps and redundancy both in the scope of their responsibilities and in the types of issues given to Committees for review.  For example, the changes proposed to DEP’s Oil and Gas Program enforcement policy was not reviewed by any Advisory Committee.
-- Formal Review Of Regulatory Programs: DEP should establish a formal program to regularly review existing regulations, technical guidance and agency programs for effectiveness and efficiency and whether DEP has adequate resources to carry out its responsibilities and statutory mandates.
-- Establish And Share Best Practices: There are still some significant gaps to close in basic Advisory Committee administrative procedures, such as getting Committee members meeting materials in enough time for a meaningful review and posting them on the Committee webpage, collaboratively setting Advisory Committee agendas and having higher-level DEP staff attend meetings so members can have direct discussions with decision makers.
-- Apply Advisory Guidelines To All Formal Advisory Groups: DEP has established formal advisory groups like the Regional Roundtables and the Chesapeake Bay Management Team that are not using the existing guidelines to provide notice of meetings and posting meeting materials and they should.
-- Establish A Technical Guidance Agenda: DEP should create a Technical Guidance Agenda, like the Regulatory Agenda, to give the public more information about which policies the agency is looking to update or create.
The final version of the Transition Report Part 1 will be posted on the Council’s webpage.
Other Meeting Activities
Council heard a presentation by Ann Divine on DEP’s Environmental Education Grants Program.
Cynthia Carrow, Chair of Council’s Legislative Committee, gave an end of session report on the status of environmental legislation the Committee was monitoring and said they would be setting up meetings in the General Assembly in the new year to acquaint members with the Council and its activities.
Public Comments
During the public comment portion of its meeting, Council received comments from--
-- Celeen Miller, PA League of Women Voters, who applauded efforts by Council to improve public participation in the agency, urged additional research into the effects of natural gas extraction and for more effective and efficient oversight of the Oil and Gas Program.
-- Emily Krafjack, Connections for Oil, Gas & Environment in the Northern Tier, suggested a new rule making setting environmental protection performance standards for oil and gas well sites, expanding oil and gas program staff, putting more emphasis on air quality issues generally and formation of a stakeholder group to help establish well standards. Click Here for a copy of the comments.
The complete comments will be posted on the Council’s webpage.
This was the last meeting of Council in 2014.  The tentative 2015 meeting schedule is: January 21, February 17, March 17, April 21, May 20, June 16, July 21, September 15, October 20 and November 17.
For more information, visit the DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council webpage.

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