Tuesday, August 21, 2018

DEP Will Come Back To EQB With Proposal To Raise Water Quality Permit Fees By $8 Million Annually

The Department of Environmental Protection Tuesday told the Environmental Quality Board it needs $8 million a year in new revenue to provide sustainable funding to support Pennsylvania’s water quality protection and permit programs and will be coming back to the Board with a specific fee increase proposal in the near future.
The EQB also acted to adopt another funding-related proposal-- the final regulation increasing permit fees by $3.5 million for the Noncoal Mining Program to be phased-in over the next several years.
The EQB also adopted final updated storage tank regulations and final-omitted electronic submission of air quality permit application rules.
Water Quality Funding
DEP presented two reports on the adequacy of funding to support the state program to review and issue permits for the construction of sewage and industrial wastewater facilities and NPDES water quality permits covering discharges from sewage, industrial waste and municipal and industrial stormwater facilities, including the application of pesticides.
The first report covered Chapter 91 wastewater facility construction permits and notes the program currently costs about $1.4 million a year to run, even with recent efforts to streamline program implementation.  Revenues from permit application fees only cover about $125,000 of that cost (2017).
“... [T]he WQM permit application fees are outdated. The consumer price index (CPI) has increased over 600 percent since 1971. Accounting for inflation, the typical WQM permit application fee of $500 in 1971 would now be over $3,500.
“Given the potential fluctuations in appropriations by the legislature, a more stable and sustainable funding source is desired.
“DEP is recommending an overall fee increase of approximately $1 million from Chapter 91 WQM permit application and NOI [Notice of Intent application] fees.”
Click Here for a copy of the report.
The second report covered Chapter 92a NPDES permits for wastewater and stormwater and notes DEP did increase permit fees in 2010 for this program that regulates over 10,000 wastewater facilities in the state.
The report also outlines steps DEP has taken to streamline the permit program, however, program expenses still come to $20.4 million annually, with fees now paying for about $4.1 million of that expense.
The NPDES Program is also support by $6.6 million in federal funds, which have recently been threatened with cuts or elimination.
“Based on the current funding structure, DEP’s ability to adequately comply with federal and state environmental requirements relating to the NPDES program is continually strained due to a lack of program solvency.
“Without adequate funding for all required aspects of the NPDES program, public health may suffer, and environmental gains previously made may be lost due to a reduced capacity to conduct compliance and enforcement efforts.
“Additionally, DEP’s ability to efficiently and timely process permit applications, meet its obligations under the Clean Streams Law, satisfy increasing federal requirements, and promptly serve the public in areas, including but not limited to municipal stormwater (MS4s) and agriculture, are all affected by this funding gap.
“Given the potential fluctuations in appropriations by the legislature, a more stable and sustainable funding source is desired.”
To meet DEP’s annual revenue objective for this program, DEP is recommending an overall fee increase of approximately $7 million in NPDES permit application and NOI fees.
Click Here for a copy of the second report.
DEP told the Board it was working with stakeholders to develop the specifics of a fee increase proposal.  Typically, Water Quality Program fee increases are considered by DEP’s Water Resources Advisory Committee which is scheduled to meet on September 19.
For more information and available handouts, visit the Environmental Quality Board webpage.  Questions should be directed to Laura Edinger by calling 717-772-3277 or send email to: ledinger@pa.gov.
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