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DRBC Proposes 'One Process/One Permit' Program

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) unveiled a proposed "One Process/One Permit" (OPOP) program on Friday, designed to promote efficiency and cooperation between the commission and the regulatory agencies of its four member states.

Under the proposed program, the four states -- Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York -- would act as lead agencies and issue wastewater discharge permits for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water quality programs. For water withdrawals, the lead agency could be either a state or the DRBC, depending upon applicable state programs.

The DRBC said standard renewals for existing permits, where no changes were made, "could be streamlined or be subject to interagency notifications only." It added that for more complex permit applications, "commission staff and state agencies will commit to collaborate and cooperate within a 'one process' system," with the DRBC providing technical review.

"DRBC staff also will continue to identify conditions of approval to ensure that projects subject to review under the Delaware River Basin Compact and implementing regulations do not impair or conflict with [our] comprehensive plan," the commission said.

For OPOP to be enacted, the DRBC would undertake a rulemaking, which would include a public comment process. The commission would also execute new administration agreements with the four states to replace those already in place. The DRBC said it hopes to have OPOP in place no sooner than 4Q2015 in most of the member states.

"This effort does not alter the regulatory standards of the DRBC or any state agency, and the respective authorities and standards of each agency are to be expressly preserved," DRBC Executive Director Steve Tambini said. "Our focus is on administrative changes to implement current regulatory programs and to continue to require that the more protective of DRBC and state requirements are included in the single permit."

The DRBC and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) have proposed an OPOP demonstration period for wastewater discharge permits beginning in the spring. During that period, the DRBC and NJDEP would practice using the new collaborative process until final rules are adopted.

"In the event that a project reaches the stage where it is ready for final approval, the application would have to be acted upon by each agency independently," the DRBC said. "If the DRBC commissioners take an approval action during this period, the DRBC approval and conditions would be incorporated into one NJDEP permit."

A resolution authorizing Tambini to initiate the rulemaking and the demonstration period with NJDEP is expected to be considered at the next commission meeting on March 11. A public hearing on the matter would be held the day before, March 10.

The DRBC is led by the governors of the four basin states and the federal government, represented by the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic division. It has regulatory jurisdiction over the 13,539-square-mile Delaware River watershed.

Oil and natural gas development is currently banned in the watershed. The DRBC was near a vote to revise its water quality regulations in November 2011, but the proposal was postponed indefinitely after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he opposed it (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21, 2011). At the time, New York officials said they would have joined Delaware in opposing the plan, but Pennsylvania was ready to vote in favor of it. New Jersey was undecided.

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