Applicants for state-issued permits, certifications, or licenses will hear back from the permitting agency within an allotted amount of time, or they will receive their application fees back, according to a recently signed executive order by incoming Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro.
Executive Order 2023-07, signed shortly after Shapiro took office in January, is designed to make the permitting process more efficient, timely, and a better experience for applicants. By expediting the processes, the governor hopes to “eliminat[e] barriers to economic development, professional opportunities, and public health and safety” that may have slowed or canceled projects.
All agencies with permitting or licensing powers will be affected by the order, including the underfunded Department of Environmental Protection, which has been the source of numerous complaints from the oil and gas industry regarding the long wait times in procuring permits from the agency.
State agencies are required to compile a list of all permits issued, including a description of the internal process for application consideration and fees associated with each type of permit. The permitting agency is then to conduct an analysis on its permitting process, and provide the governor’s office with a recommended length of time necessary to complete each type of permit or license, along with the other materials, within 90 days.
Upon receipt of the agency’s analysis, the governor’s office will conduct its own analysis and provide recommendations back to the state agency on appropriate time frames for the application and review processes. However, these recommendations act more like mandate than guidance, as the agency must refund the fees associated with any application that is not processed within that recommended time frame.
The order will have an effect on every permit, license, and certification issued by the state, from barber licenses to natural gas well permits.
While it may make the process faster for those seeking professional licenses, it may also attract even more natural gas development in the state as the notoriously slow existing process is improved. Uncertainty surrounding permitting timelines can deter businesses and investors from developing projects in Pennsylvania.
The DEP currently offers a “permit decision guarantee,” which provides applicants with a deadline by which they will receive a response, but stacking complaints against the department indicate that existing policy is not working as planned. The new order offers all state agencies an opportunity to better their existing systems, while improving the experience for applicants.