ROBERT SWIFT: Capitol Matters: Lawmakers mull permitting process
HARRISBURG - A month after lawmakers debated the issue without resolution, Gov. Tom Corbett has issued an executive order requiring state environmental officials to issue permits more quickly.
"One of the biggest complaints I have received over and over again is the time it takes for businesses, non-profit organizations and local governments to work through the permitting process," said Mr. Corbett.
This order creates the "permit guarantee program" which requires the Department of Environmental Protection to coordinate the review of projects that need multiple permits, establish performance standards for employees doing the reviews and handle permit work online where possible.
The announcement was made last week while the governor was on a three-day kayaking trip along the Allegheny River in western Pennsylvania. And it follows a similar announcement by Mr. Corbett to streamline the permit process for the Highway Occupancy Permits which the state Transportation Department issues to businesses and development for projects that need access to state-owned roads.
The governor's action concerning a permit guarantee program might not seem that surprising except for the recent tug-of-war over a House bill sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Pyle, R-60, Ford City, to set a 60-day deadline for DEP to review and determine permit applications. Mr. Pyle's bill was moving to a floor vote as lawmakers wrapped up the spring session. But it ran into serious opposition not only over the deadlines, but also over provisions to declare an application approved if DEP missed a deadline and to direct DEP to develop a plan to use "qualified" non-department employees to review permit applications.
PennFuture, a statewide environmental group, described the bill's respective deadlines of 30 days to determine if an application is complete, 60 days to make a decision and 90 days to weigh an applicant's response to identified problems as very short. Other opponents criticized the alternate review provision as outsourcing.
A floor vote on Mr. Pyle's bill was postponed while debate flared up over DEP's budget for fiscal 2012-13.
Rep. Greg Vitali, D-166, Haverford, called attention to a $12 million cut in the agency' budget and said it compounded earlier budget cuts that had reduced the agency's workforce by 10 percent since 2006. He questioned how the agency could handle the growing number of gas drilling permits with the cuts.
DEP also gets funding from other sources, including drilling impact fees, special funds and federal aid, said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-165, Springfield.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.