As part of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s budget request for fiscal 2023-24, recently appointed Acting Secretary Richard Negrin proposed a 10-point plan to improve permit reviews.
DEP has come under increasing pressure to improve its review process for permits in various areas, including oil and gas activities and air and water quality. As one of his first official actions, Gov. Josh Shapiro issued an executive order requiring all state agencies to issue permits within an allotted time or guarantee the return of permit fees paid by the applicant.
All state agencies were required to conduct reviews of their permitting processes and submit them to the governor’s office. That office will then review them and issue recommendations on time frames and review processes. The DEP currently offers a “permit decision guarantee,” which provides applicants with a deadline by which they will receive a response, but budget testimony indicated that just 25 percent of the permit applications DEP receives are complete and eligible for that guarantee.
Negrin said in his budget testimony that despite underfunding and staff shortages, DEP has worked to eliminate permit backlogs and is now reviewing how to improve efficiency and identify needs holding back the agency. “Some of those needs are going to be fiscal, so I will be back next year requesting more resources to make sure DEP is giving the people of Pennsylvania our best work,” Negrin said.
The 10-point permit plan outlined by Negrin includes:
Staffing - 30 new positions for FY 23-24 to enhance permitting process. DEP will continue to evaluate staffing needs to meet a goal of improving permit review times.
Rapid Response Team - Small, select team of experienced, highly qualified, permitting specialists to work on agreed upon, identified projects.
Office of Environmental Excellence & Annual Report - Use new operations system and Key Performance Indicators to drive operational goals. Apply private-sector management principles to quarterly operations reviews, and make the data available to the public.
Fast Track- Research options for expedited permitting track for select projects that meet certain criteria.
Early Engagement and PACT (Pre-Application Consultation Tool) - Formalize pre-application meeting process to better inform potential applicants of processes and needed permits as well as drive down permit application deficiencies.
Streamlining Reviews - Engage outside permit expertise to review permit forms and processes to identify areas of improvement with a focus on user experience.
Backlog Reduction Plan - Explore and create mechanism to reduce annual backlog of permit reviews.
Technology Upgrade - Update systems to modernize consolidate permit review programs and enhance security.
Enhanced Training for Staff - Ensure staff are trained on latest technology and programs to ensure efficiency.
External Plan for Ongoing Stakeholder Engagement - Work with Governor's Office of Transformation & Opportunity and legislature to engage stakeholders and identify opportunities for improvement and continuous learning.