PADEP Proposes Changes to Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) Procedure

January 2013Articles In the Zone

On November 10, 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) published a new draft policy for “Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) Coordination During Permit Review and Evaluation. The proposed policy comes on the heels of the PA DEP’s recent finalization of its Permit Decision Guarantee Process and its Permit Coordination Policy. It is aimed at improving the treatment of threatened and endangered species within Pennsylvania’s permit review system.

PNDI is a database of plant and animal information containing site-specific references to known occurrences of threatened and endangered (T&E) species, special concern species and significant ecological features. Applicants must run a screening of their project area for potential species impacts and respond according to what is found: no impact or a potential impact. If a potential impact is identified, the applicant must take additional action as directed by the appropriate jurisdictional agency to obtain a PNDI “clearance” letter.

The proposed policy makes a couple key changes to existing PNDI procedure.

First, the policy would offer two separate paths that an applicant can take to handle PNDI coordination within the permit review process. Those two paths entail either a sequential review or a concurrent review of requirements.

Sequential review has been the traditional review process for T&E species. Under sequential review, the permit applicant runs the PNDI search and completes all coordination with the appropriate jurisdictional agencies prior to submitting the permit application. As the alternate path’s name indicates, a concurrent review would allow a permit application to be reviewed while the applicant is addressing any PNDI issues with the respective agencies.

While a concurrent review may save an applicant time under the best of circumstances, it also subjects him to new risk. That is to say, should the PNDI search indicate a potential impact in the identified project area, the jurisdictional agency may require a partial project re-design to resolve that impact. As a result, the applicant may be left with a substantively altered project application that would need to be re-submitted to the PA DEP as a new application (along with a new application fee).

A second change made by the PA DEP’s proposed policy deals with the length a PNDI receipt is valid. Under the existing policy, PNDI receipts are only valid for one year and as such have often caused applicants the extra aggravation of having to re-run and respond to frequent PNDI searches throughout the lifespan of a project.

The proposed policy would extend the validity of a PNDI receipt to two years from the date of screening or from the issuance of a clearance letter. Additionally, if an applicant requires a subsequent permit within the project area identified and documented on the PNDI receipt, he will not be required to conduct a new PNDI screening for the subsequent permit application.

The two-year validity of a PNDI receipt would only apply to those clearances obtained after July 2, 2013 (the proposed effective date of the final policy). Those PNDI clearances obtained prior to that date would still only have a life of one year and would need to be re-run to qualify for two years.