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PCCD questions new permit process; haste, prioritization and politics at issue

September 19, 2012

A new Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit review process and the draft policy for implementing it met with criticism at the September 17 board of directors meeting of the Pike County Conservation District (PCCD) in Blooming Grove. Specific concerns were cited about the hasty process involved and the potential for “politicizing” the prioritization of permits.

“We just got this about two weeks ago and the comments have to be submitted to DEP by the end of the month,” said PCCD executive director Susan Beecher. Staff are currently reviewing the policy and developing comments.

Beecher acknowledged there is a need for greater efficiency and more coordination between DEP and PA conservation districts. However, the conservation districts had no input in the policy development. “I’m seeing some things that I’m concerned about and that could have been discussed if we were at the table,” she said.

Beecher attributed part of the problem to the fact that the policy covers most permits that DEP issues. “It not only applies to NPDES permits for construction, it also applies to sewage permits, mining permits, air quality authorizations and more,” she said. “It’s not clear what our role is going to be in some of these processes that are unfolding, and it would have been really helpful for us to be involved.”

Beecher also expressed concern that the rollout date is next month. “I think that’s really ambitious given what has to happen in the meantime,” she added.

“Can you give us any insight on why they’re streamlining this?” asked board chairman Scott Savini.

“I’m not sure why,” responded DEP Northeast Region Assessment and Planning Section Chief Carl Deluca. “This is central office, strictly, and the governor’s office working. They want better communication with each regional office and the central office is taking more of a role in providing the policies needed and proper guidance in a more timely manner.”

“I think we’re basically all in the dark as far as how this is actually going to play out,” said Beecher.

“As it’s coming out, we’ll get it to you, but we’re hearing it as fast as you’re hearing it at this point,” said Deluca.
Beecher expressed alarm over the timeframes being set for specific permits. “The oil and gas program permits range from 14 to 43 days and that includes the erosion and sediment control general permit for gas transmission lines. So we could have a project where there’s hundreds of acres of earth disturbance over miles and miles of transmission line and the permit decision guaranteed time for that project would be 43 days. That is outrageous.”