The PA DEP’s New Permit Decision Guarantee Policy and You

November 2012Articles In the Zone

On November 2, 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) adopted a Permit Decision Guarantee Policy replacing the older “money back guarantee” program adopted during the last administration. The policy applies to a variety of state-issued permits, including permits issued by agencies that are delegated review, such as a county conservation districts or health departments.

Each permit classification now has a “guaranteed” turn-around time ranging from several weeks to several months. The new focus is intended to be “how long have we had the application” as opposed to the old policy emphasis of “how much time do we have left to take action on a permit.”

In its discussion of the new policy, PA DEP cites its internal reviews, which show that 40 percent of the environmental permit submissions received are deficient. PA DEP staff currently spends additional time helping applicants bring those submissions into compliance. The new policy limits this.

Now, the new policy encourages applicants to schedule pre-application meetings with the PA DEP, including representatives from all appropriate regulatory programs to ensure clear design and permitting expectations. Once filed, the permit application will be reviewed for administrative completeness within 10 business days. While minor changes can be made by telephone, any meaningful errors or omissions will cause the application to be deemed incomplete and the application will be denied. Likewise, if the applicant amends the application and resubmits it, the PA DEP will treat the package as a new application.

An important change deals with what happens if the permit is not complete. After reviewing the permit for completeness, the technical review follows. Only one technical deficiency letter will be sent. If the technical deficiency is not fixed, the application may be denied. A new application will need to be submitted and will be treated as if it is a totally new application. This means that new fees must be paid and new time periods begin. One concern is that certain mining and waste permits can cost thousands of dollars in application fees. PA DEP will retain the original application fee if the permit is denied.

If there is a PA DEP staff determination of insufficiency, this can be reviewed. The Regional Director and/or the Bureau Director can evaluate and make a final department decision. This elevated review process may include more face-to-face meetings with the applicant as well as an additional 10 days to implement a resolution. Finally, there is always an appeal available to the Environmental Hearing Board.

The policy also implements a permit review hierarchy to prioritize certain projects for review prior to others. Instead of a “first-in, first-out” method of reviewing submissions, the PA DEP will place a premium on reaching a decision for certain types of environmental permits. These projects relate to health and safety or economic development.