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Pennsylvania state Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne County) plans to introduce a resolution that would require a legislative committee to launch a performance evaluation of permitting programs overseen by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in a move to allay the regulated community’s concerns about agency delays, such as those voiced by the natural gas industry.
Specifically, the resolution would call for a thorough review of the DEP’s process for issuing Chapter 102 Erosion and Sediment Control and Chapter 105 Water Obstruction and Encroachment permits. Those are the two largest programs administered by the agency. The permits affect nearly all projects that include construction, Yudichak said this month in a memo to lawmakers seeking co-sponsors.
“All too frequently, regulated communities have expressed concerns about inconsistency or delays in the DEP’s permitting process,” he said. “While they certainly recognize the need for environmental protection, permit applicants maintain that delays result in unnecessary work interruptions and economic losses for both businesses and surrounding communities.”
The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee would undertake the evaluation under the resolution. Yudichak, who also serves as the minority chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the independent analysis would provide a “fair and objective baseline” to help offset internal agency reviews and balance the debate about permitting delays in the state.
Earth disturbance permits must be obtained before starting construction on five or more acres for oil and gas production, processing, treatment and transmission facilities. Chapter 105 water quality permits are also a major part of the natural gas pipeline permitting process.
DEP’s funding and staff levels have declined in the last decade as fixed costs have increased. A wide variety of stakeholders have implored lawmakers to increase general fund appropriations for the agency in recent years. The natural gas industry has said permitting delays are costing the state its competitive edge in some instances. The Senate passed a revenue package to fund the state budget in July that included provisions for faster turnaround times for well, air and earth disturbance permits in exchange for establishing a severance tax on natural gas production.
That package is being considered by the House, but the industry is opposed to such an exchange. Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer said last month in response to the Senate’s proposal that turnaround times in the state have in some cases reached 260 days for earth disturbance permits and more than 100 days for well permits.
The DEP said earlier this year that it would revise its eligibility standards for expedited review of erosion and sediment control general permit applications related to oil and gas development. The program was found to be ineffective after an internal review, the DEP said.
Under Yudichak’s resolution, the budget and finance committee would consider the efficiency of DEP’s permitting programs by examining its resources, workloads, performance levels, policies and procedures. The committee would also analyze the agency’s fee structures, applications and input from the regulated community, among other things. Recommendations for legislative solutions would be provided in a report to the Senate within a year.