Gov. Wolf, DEP Taking Action To Reduce Backlogs, Improve Oversight, Modernize Permit Process
Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection Friday announced the administration's plan to reduce permit backlogs, modernize permitting processes, and better utilize technology to improve both oversight and efficiency.
This action is a result of a yearlong effort to identify and implement strategies that will help DEP meet the goals of the Permit Decision Guarantee, while continuing to issue strong permits with strict environmental protections.
Gov. Wolf also announced the administration will bolster DEP staffing, which has been deeply eroded in past budget cuts, to boost these efforts.
“Working with Secretary McDonnell, I tasked DEP with looking at ways to reduce backlogs and wait times responsibly, so that we could meet the ambitious goals of the Permit Decision Guarantee, while providing even stronger environmental protections for our citizens,” said Gov. Wolf. “Secretary McDonnell and his team have implemented a number of changes and the results have been remarkable.”
To capitalize on the success to date, DEP will continue to implement new approaches to its permitting processes by simplifying bureaucratic and outdated procedures, while continuing its mission of protecting the environment. New initiatives include:
-- E-Permitting: Expanding the e-permitting system to include several key development permits, reducing the time spent trading paper between DEP and industry;
-- Track Progress: Creating a new analytics program that helps managers track progress on open permit applications – allowing them to know how long permits have been in the system;
-- New Review Processes: Releasing new review processes and registration practices for key development permits for clarification on what is needed to complete an application and make it easier to apply for these permits; and
-- Well Pad Permitting: Supporting common sense legislation that will bring the permit process in line with the industry it is engaged with, such as extending permit terms and allowing multi-well oil and gas pad permitting.
-- Simplified Water Obstruction & Encroachment General Permit Process online by February 2018. Click Here for more.
“Gov. Wolf has made a strong commitment to strengthening the DEP and helping us rebuild after a decade of cuts that led to bigger backlogs and longer wait times,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “By investing in additional staff for the department across all programs, Gov. Wolf is helping us better protect the environment of our commonwealth and more efficiently process permit applications on their merit in a timely manner.”
“The initiatives implemented at DEP will undoubtedly have positive impacts for Pennsylvania’s economy, while demonstrating that the economy and environment don’t have to be at odds,” said Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin. “From an economic development perspective, these efforts will strengthen communities by empowering businesses, which creates jobs and grows local economies across the Commonwealth."
Following a comprehensive review across programs, DEP implemented several new initiatives to streamline processes and modernize practices, including an innovative new permit review approach to shrink review timelines of the Erosion and Sediment Control General Permit (ESCGP), a key development permit, to under 100 days while reducing backlogs for well permits in the southwest region.
Since implementing the new approach, DEP’s Southwest District Office reduced its permit review timeline for the ESCGP by over 220 days, and has cut its permit backlog in half.
Since the summer of 2017, the department has reduced the overall permit backlog by more than 6,000 permits.
Additional efficiencies implemented include:
-- Redistributing Workload: Rotating pending permits to regions with the capacity to review additional applications;
-- Moving Staff Positions: Reallocating positions within the Office of Oil and Gas Management to equalize the permit review workload and improve permit review consistency;
-- Updated Application Processes: Providing updated technical guidance documents and improved permit application forms and instructions to clarify regulatory requirements to permit applicants and facilitate the submission of adequate permit applications; and
-- New Staff To Permit Reviews: Targeting new hires in key permit review areas.
Since 2006, the department has assumed significant new responsibilities for the oversight of the natural gas sector and water and air programs.
In that same time period, the department has repeatedly suffered from staffing cuts. DEP’s staff has been reduced by 43 percent since 2006. This has led to long wait times for permits and a large backlog.
“When I was in business, I never would have tried this kind of gimmick because simply put – it doesn’t work,” said Gov. Wolf. “You cannot cut your way to greater efficiency if all you are cutting is the number of people that do the work and you don’t have to be in business to know that.”
To continue to provide high-quality, responsive oversight, the governor will allocate $2.5 million in the 2018-19 budget for additional staffing at DEP.
This investment will allow the department to hire new employees in high priority positions across programs and regional offices and will help the department fulfill its mission to protect the natural resources of the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr said this about the steps taken Friday, "We applaud Gov. Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection for taking positive steps towards making the state's permitting and regulatory program more predictable and accountable.
"We have often heard from our members that the state's permitting process was cumbersome and often a barrier to growth. Today's announcement is a step in the right direction to making it easier for job creators to operate in the Commonwealth.
"We look forward to working with the legislature and the Wolf administration on additional steps to improve the state's regulatory and overall business climate."
David Spigelmyer, President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said, "We appreciate Gov. Wolf and DEP's recognition of the importance to establish efficient and consistent permitting standards [and] we’ll continue to engage with policymakers on ways to maximize the shared benefits of natural gas development."
Stephen Miskin, Spokesperson for House Republicans, said, “DEP permitting and regulatory reform is very important to House Republican members; we are glad the governor is listening, and while we review his actions, this won't be the end to needed actions.”
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council said, “The Pennsylvania Environmental Council commends Gov. Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection for their efforts to improve Department performance with respect to environmental protection and responsiveness to the regulated community.
“Today’s announcement that the Governor will seek to add Department staff to further the Department’s mission is most welcome, given the ever-increasing demands placed on the agency.
“We look forward to working with the administration on additional policy and permitting reform that will further ensure protection of our state’s environmental resources and quality of life, while also supporting the needs of communities, individuals, and businesses throughout the Commonwealth.”
Andrew Williams, Environmental Defense Fund, said, "Gov. Wolf and The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced plans to increase funding for the department and increase efficiency by reducing the amount of time it takes to approve new oil and gas sites.
“The Governor’s plan will both reduce bureaucratic delays in permitting and improve oversight of the state’s oil and gas industry. Continued vigilance from the Wolf Administration will be critical to protect Pennsylvanians’ air and water, and to ensure all oil and gas companies operate more responsibly within the Commonwealth.”
(Photo: DEP Secretary McDonnell, Gov. Wolf, DCED Secretary Davin.)
[Posted: Jan. 26, 2018]
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