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Thursday, January 10, 2019

DEP to Build on Modernization and Efficiency Measures in 2019

Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announces continued reductions in both the review time and backlog of pending permit applications, and debuts two modernization and efficiency measures that will continue to increase permitting efficiency.
This week, DEP formally opened the Regional Permit Coordination Office (RPCO), a centralized permitting office to assist with construction permitting and coordination related to erosion and sediment control (Chapter 102) and water obstruction and encroachment (Chapter 105). Specifically, the RPCO will assist with construction permitting for large-scale, multi-county or multi-regional infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and highways. DEP also announces that it will be rebalancing workload among its regional offices by transferring responsibility for all applicable regulatory programs in Armstrong and Indiana counties from its Southwest Regional Office to the Northwest Regional Office. 
“The department receives more than 30,000 permit applications a year, and each of these permits is important to a project somewhere in the commonwealth,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Over the past four years DEP has focused its efforts on increased responsiveness, improved customer service, and working smarter and more efficiently to improve operations.”
In January 2018, Governor Tom Wolf and DEP announced plans to modernize the permit process, reduce the backlog, improve oversight, and sought a $2.5 million budget allocation to facilitate the strategy.
In the past year, DEP’s Southwest Regional Office reduced backlog of permits in the region by more than 75 percent and shortened its review timeline for erosion and sediment control general permits by more than 220 days. The allocation of two counties to the northwest region will aid in anticipated continued commercial, energy, and infrastructure development in the southwest. Mining and radiation protection programs are not affected by this regional office change.
In addition to assisting with construction permitting for large-scale, multi-county or multi-regional infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and highways, the RPCO will work with existing DEP bureaus to provide statewide technical support to regions and add additional emphasis on project coordination and consistency. DEP will transfer some of its permitting functions from the regions to streamline project development and permit processing, reduce redundant operations, and provide effective service and project delivery. 
In addition to these new measures, DEP has also aggressively focused on data-driven tools and resources, including the development of e-Permitting and e-Inspections: 
DEP now offers e-permitting for well drilling and erosion and sedimentation control at oil and gas sites (ESCGP), surface coal mining, air emissions from certain natural gas activities (GP-5 and GP-5A), Chapter 105 water obstruction and encroachment general permits, storage tank renewals, radiation protection x-ray registration renewals, and other regulated activities. 
DEP now performs e-inspection for oil and gas sites, erosion and sedimentation, waterways encroachment, waste management, spill cleanup, and emergency response. In the Oil & Gas program specifically, e-inspections have increased inspector efficiency by 20 percent.
DEP is embarking on an effort to digitize regional files while also requesting electronic submissions. Electronic files and databases housed on DEP’s website and other operational changes are designed to improve the Right to Know Law and informal file review processes, reinforcing DEP’s commitment to transparency.
DEP has significantly improved permitting efficiency by meeting with and clearly communicating permitting and regulatory requirements to the regulated community and consultants. 
“As we move to more data-driven tools and resources, we’re also able to evaluate current and anticipated staffing needs,” said McDonnell. “While we strive to increase efficiency, we’re also making sure our professional staff have the resources and training necessary to carry out regulatory oversight.” 
With these changes, McDonnell would like to continue working with the regulated community to determine their needs, and address opportunities to improve consistency in applications.
Effective January 10, 2019, inquiries and correspondence regarding new permit applications, reporting, and compliance matters related to sites in Armstrong and Indiana Counties should be directed to DEP’s Northwest Regional Office. Questions on permit applications under review as of January 9, 2019, and pending enforcement matters for Armstrong and Indiana Counties should be directed to DEP’s Southwest Regional Office. Inquiries can also be directed to RA-epcontactus@pa.gov.
The RPCO can be reached by calling 717-772-5987 or kgoudy@pa.gov.

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