The Pennsylvania Senate and, by all appearances, Governor Wolf, have struck a deal that aims to mitigate the Commonwealth’s fiscal issues at the sole expense of environmental protections.
What have they done? Essentially, they have proposed to nullify the Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to review and act on applications to alter the state’s air, land, and water by taking the decision away from DEP professionals and, in many cases, farming that responsibility out to private firms. They have done this without public discussion and without setting ground rules. And, despite a supposed increase in conservation and environmental funding, the reality is that these programs actually take a big hit. For more on those implications see our earlier post here.
Are there issues with some of DEP’s permit programs? Absolutely – which is why the department has been taking a hard look at those programs, where the issues are, and what structural solutions might be available. (To hear DEP Chief Counsel Alex Chiaruttini talk about this, please listen to her comments here.)
PEC agrees that a review of the permitting process is necessary, but only if it includes all interested parties – the regulated community as well as the public – and addresses the repeated hits to DEP’s budget over the last two decades. When the department’s effectiveness has been systematically undermined for so long, it is irresponsible to simply privatize many of its functions without talking about how that is done, or even considering the additional costs. It is probably also unconstitutional, given the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent opinions dealing with our Environmental Rights Amendment.
Bottom line – we need to have discussions about how the permitting process works and about getting DEP the support that it requires. What we don’t need is the further erosion of the state’s responsibilities to its citizens.