Governor Wolf, DEP Taking Action to Reduce Backlogs, Improve Oversight, and Modernize Permit Process

January 26, 2018

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Tom Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the administration’s plan to reduce permit backlogs, modernize permitting processes, and better utilize technology to improve both oversight and efficiency. Today’s action is a result of a yearlong effort to identify and implement strategies that will help DEP meet the goals of the Permit Decision Guarantee, while continuing to issue strong permits with strict environmental protections. Governor Wolf also announced the administration will bolster DEP staffing, which has been deeply eroded in past budget cuts, to boost these efforts.

“Working with Sec. McDonnell, I tasked DEP with looking at ways to reduce backlogs and wait times responsibly, so that we could meet the ambitious goals of the Permit Decision Guarantee, while providing even stronger environmental protections for our citizens,” said Governor Wolf. “Secretary McDonnell and his team have implemented a number of changes and the results have been remarkable.”

To capitalize on the success to date, DEP will continue to implement new approaches to its permitting processes by simplifying bureaucratic and outdated procedures, while continuing its mission of protecting the environment. New initiatives include:

  • Expanding the e-permitting system to include several key development permits, reducing the time spent trading paper between DEP and industry;
  • Creating a new analytics program that helps managers track progress on open permit applications – allowing them to know how long permits have been in the system;
  • Releasing new review processes and registration practices for key development permits for clarification on what is needed to complete an application and make it easier to apply for these permits; and
  • Supporting common sense legislation that will bring the permit process in line with the industry it is engaged with, such as extending permit terms and allowing multi-well pad permitting.

“Governor Wolf has made a strong commitment to strengthening the DEP and helping us rebuild after a decade of cuts that led to bigger backlogs and longer wait times,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “By investing in additional staff for the department across all programs, Governor Wolf is helping us better protect the environment of our commonwealth and more efficiently process permit applications on their merit in a timely manner.”

“The initiatives implemented at DEP will undoubtedly have positive impacts for Pennsylvania’s economy, while demonstrating that the economy and environment don’t have to be at odds,” said Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin. “From an economic development perspective, these efforts will strengthen communities by empowering businesses, which creates jobs and grows local economies across the commonwealth.”

Following a comprehensive review across programs, DEP implemented several new initiatives to streamline processes and modernize practices, including an innovative new permit review approach to shrink review timelines of the Erosion and Sediment Control General Permit (ESCGP), a key development permit, to under 100 days while reducing backlogs for well permits in the southwest region. Since implementing the new approach, DEP’s Southwest District Office reduced its permit review timeline for the ESCGP by over 220 days, and has cut its permit backlog in half.

Since the summer of 2017, the department has reduced the overall permit backlog by more than 6,000 permits. Additional efficiencies implemented include:

  • Rotating pending permits to regions with the capacity to review additional applications;
  • Reallocating positions within the Office of Oil and Gas Management to equalize the permit review workload and improve permit review consistency;
  • Providing updated technical guidance documents and improved permit application forms and instructions to clarify regulatory requirements to permit applicants and facilitate the submission of adequate permit applications; and
  • Targeting new hires in key permit review areas.

Since 2006, the department has assumed significant new responsibilities for the oversight of the natural gas sector and water and air programs. In that same time period, the department has repeatedly suffered from staffing cuts. DEP’s staff has been reduced by 43% since 2006. This has led to long wait times for permits and a large backlog.

“When I was in business, I never would have tried this kind of gimmick because simply put – it doesn’t work,” said Governor Wolf. “You cannot cut your way to greater efficiency if all you are cutting is the number of people that do the work and you don’t have to be in business to know that.”

To continue to provide high-quality, responsive oversight, the governor will allocate $2.5 million in the 2018-19 budget for additional staffing at DEP. This investment will allow the department to hire new employees in high priority positions across programs and regional offices and will help the department fulfill its mission to protect the natural resources of the commonwealth.

For a more detailed overview of DEP’s Permit Reforms visit:

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