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    Study would review DEP permits to 'get government out of the way'

    By By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square,


    (The Center Square) — The Department of Environmental Protection issues hundreds of different permits – 800 to be exact, according to a recent analysis.

    But legislators want a deeper review of them to bring more clarity and, perhaps, efficiency.

    House Resolution 468, proposed by Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, would prompt the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to review DEP’s permits to figure out best practices and how burdensome the state’s permitting process is.

    “This review is well overdue,” Struzzi said in a legislative memo . “Any effort to seriously look at governmental process improvements is one more step closer to getting government out of the way, growing our economy and attracting more business and opportunity to Pennsylvania.”

    If passed, the LBFC would create a list of all DEP permits, their legal justification, and how long they’ve been issued; find “any overlapping, inconsistent, or antiquated permits” and any that lack a legal justification; how often each permit is issued and how long it takes for one to be approved; a comparison with other state permit regimes; and the workloads that come from Pennsylvania’s permitting landscape.

    Kvetching over permits is a certified pastime in Pennsylvania. During the February Senate budget hearing with DEP, Republicans focused on the need for permitting reform — an annual tradition going back to 2008 and beyond.

    DEP officials have taken responsibility in recent years for slow processing times and delays, and Gov. Josh Shapiro has made hay over his efforts to reform the permitting process across all state agencies under his purview.

    But DEP leaders have laid the blame for permitting problems at the foot of a labor shortage.

    “Since 2006, the department was cut significantly and we lost a large amount of staff — specifically in some of our permitting programs,” DEP Acting Secretary Jessica Shirley said in February .

    Shapiro’s budget proposal would give DEP 40 more staffers to focus on permitting, adding onto 30 more they hired last year, though Shirley said a 40-person boost “is still far below where we were in the early 2000s.”

    Though an LBFC study would give an overview of the state’s permitting environment, DEP’s hiccups go deeper than workforce shortages.

    An analysis from the Competitive Enterprise Institute found that DEP’s regional offices vary dramatically in the time it takes to issue permits. Depending on where a company wants to dig, clearing a permit could take 79 days to 123 days. In some places, the problem has gotten worse: wait times for a permit in DEP’s southwest and northcentral regional offices grew by 56% and 86%, respectively, from 2015 to 2021.

    Pennsylvania governors have had a mixed record on permitting reforms, said James Broughel, the author of the CEI report, and argued that bigger reform attempts may be needed to fix the commonwealth’s permitting woes.

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