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Speedier environmental reviews to be required

| Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 7:23 a.m.

State environmental regulators soon will have new deadlines to review permit applications because Gov. Tom Corbett signed an order on Tuesday to guarantee timely decisions.

The governor is seeking to address complaints he's received about how long it takes to get a permit for projects with environmental implications through state review, he said in a news release.

The order demands an update to permit-review deadlines set in 1994. It also wants the Department of Environmental Protection to set clearer standards for applicants and dismisses any incomplete and deficient applications.

“Particularly now when the agency is down 500 or 600 employees from where it was before, that's an issue,” said David E. Hess, the department secretary under former Gov. Tom Ridge. “And while it puts a bigger burden on the applicants and their consultants, I think that's only fair. Why should the public pay for helping a private applicant complete incomplete work?”

The department will be working under the old deadlines in the interim, but Corbett nixed an executive order from Ridge to refund permit fees to applicants whose reviews were delayed. The agency now relies more on its permit fees — some of which are higher — as its state funding has shrunk, but the administration didn't have a financial motive in eliminating fee refunds, department spokesman Kevin Sunday said.

Ensuring reviews are completed on time — not punishing the department for failing behind — is the priority for both state leaders and the groups DEP regulates, Sunday said. To install Corbett's order and set new rules for permit timeliness, the previous order had to be rescinded for procedural reasons, he said.

The department plans to propose the new permit review deadlines for a 45-day public comment this fall, Sunday said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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