Telephone: 724-787-4451

Regulatory/Permitting Issues – Q&A With PA Senator Wagner and Representative Benninghoff

  Fall 2017

Regulatory/Permitting Issues – Q&A With PA Senator Wagner and Representative Benninghoff
By: Teresa Irvin McCurdy, President of TD Connections, Inc.

 

What do you do when your permit application is delayed or a regulation is introduced that will harm your business? Some accept the process and put up with delays, others hire lobbyists to help “persuade” our PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) into acting on a permit or changing proposed regulations. Lobbyists often use their connections in the Legislature to elevate the issue within DEP and the Administration. Why?

First, the Legislature passes laws, with Governor approval, which forces DEP and/or other agencies to draft new regulations or make changes to existing ones. Second, through the budget process they allocate funds to each department, albeit each agency still has some autonomy in how they utilize those funds. Third, the Senate confirms the nominations of Secretaries and can invoke a Secretary to testify before them. Finally, some legislators run and do become Governor. Therefore, Secretaries try to get along with legislators.

I sat down with a state Senator and a state Representative to ask them questions regarding DEP to get some insights.

1.  Please tell us a little about yourself; What drives you?
Wagner: My name is Scott Wagner. I’m a first-term state senator from York county. I also own one of the largest waste management facilities in Pennsylvania. I became a senator because state government is infested with a culture of mismanagement and self-interest, which feeds on honest people and robs them of their earnings and potential. I wake up every single day determined to be the leadership that breaks this cycle. That’s what drives me.

In the Senate, I serve as the chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee, Vice Chairman of the Labor & Industry Committee, and I sit on the Appropriations and Transportation Committees. I am active in the York non-profit community and have or am serving on organizations promoting entrepreneurship and leadership development.

Benninghoff: My name is Kerry Benninghoff, and I have had the wonderful privilege of representing the hard-working people of Centre and Mifflin counties, the heart of Penn State country, as state representative since 1996. I am a fiscal conservative and an outspoken advocate for government reform and transparency, lower taxes and reining in excessive government spending.

I was elected by my colleagues for the last two legislative sessions to serve on the Leadership team as the House Majority Policy Committee chairman. The committee travels across the state conducting hearings on important issues, gathering testimony and information from key stakeholders, in order to develop sound policies for the House to consider. Previously, I served as chairman of the House Majority Finance Committee. Prior to serving as state representative, I worked as a hospital orderly and was Centre County coroner for two terms.

My highest priority and inspiration in life has been and continues to be my five children. I now have the joy of being not only a dad, but a “Pap Pap” to my two grandchildren.

2.  In hearing from your constituents regarding DEP, are they all bad or are some good?
Wagner: DEP is one of the state agencies that I hear the most complaints about. There is a strong perception among the public that DEP exists to prevent economic growth rather than to protect the environment. I often joke that DEP doesn’t stand for Department of Environmental Protection but rather ‘Don’t Expect Permits.’ This is something that needs to be changed either through legislation or by the Administration whether it be this one or the next.

Benninghoff: Both in my district and throughout Pennsylvania, I hear stories of economic development projects being held up, and in some cases prevented, by state government agencies like DEP. These projects would allow farmers and small business owners to expand their operations, provide employment opportunities for Pennsylvanians and ensure our low-cost energy resources make their way to market. They are too important to our communities to be delayed.

Far too many projects, from major infrastructure like pipelines and roads, to smaller projects like a carwash back home, have been stalled because of an inefficient, cumbersome, confusing and unpredictable permitting process. Unfortunately, our flawed and lengthy process signals to businesses that their investment is not welcome here. That is just not unacceptable.

3.  The regulated community has expressed that DEP oversteps its authority when drafting regulations, general permits and guidance documents and then implementing them. Do you have a plan to address this?
Wagner: While traveling across the state, I heard too many tragic stories about DEP bringing businesses and jobs to a halt. Past DEP Secretaries, with certain environmental agendas, wrote and implemented many rules and regulations that were not based on sound science or the “best available technology.”

When a potential job creator goes to the bank to get a loan, the bank wants to know the business will remain in existence until the loan is paid back. Under the current regulatory environment there is zero assurance that a business won’t be regulated out of existence.

We can change this by ensuring that regulations are only updated when absolutely necessary, that they follow legislative language and intent and are never expanded without authority. Existing regulations should be reviewed for clarity, conflicts, and should be translated into plain language so they are easier to understand and follow. If new regulations are required, then a serious look at the cost and benefits should be considered to ensure that the new regulations won’t cause irreparable harm to existing businesses.

Benninghoff: The protection of Pennsylvania’s air, land and water for future generations must be the driving force and rationale behind all new regulations, general permits and guidance documents generated by DEP. It is not appropriate to use these tools as an avenue to crush job creators simply for the sake of more government involvement and oversight. Unfortunately, there have been too many instances where DEP has used and even overreached their authority to create excessive requirements and a burdensome process without any true environmental cause or benefit.

I am working with my colleagues in both chambers on legislation to address this very concern. One proposal would create a review process for new “products” issued by the DEP, such as general permits, that would require proof of legislative authority to create such a permit, ensure transparency in the process and require the agency demonstrate the driving environmental harm and/or benefit that necessitated the change.

4. Economic development has been stymied by delays in obtaining timely permits. Programs like the Permit Decision Guarantee (PDG) were set up to solve the issue, yet it continues. How can this be resolved? How can we bring stability to permitting so the regulated community is comfortable doing business in PA?

Wagner: When the DEP doesn’t issue permits, businesses don’t operate, and people don’t work. With a leader who understands this simple concept and governs accordingly, Pennsylvania will be an economic powerhouse – one booming with jobs, opportunity and prosperity.
A man in the oil patch said that while holding up a wrench in one hand, he was making money, but when holding a pen in the other hand he was losing money. The burdensome reporting and paperwork required by DEP is designed to keep businesses in a constant state of justifying their existence. In the eyes of the DEP it seems you are “guilty until you prove yourself innocent.” This way of thinking must be changed.

Again, it comes down to leadership. When Pennsylvania has a governor whose administration regards the business community as the valuable job-creators they are, they will have all the confidence, support and cooperation they need to do business in the Commonwealth.

Benninghoff: If we want to move Pennsylvania forward and ensure we don’t continue to lose jobs, we must have a reasonable regulatory environment and permitting process that is responsive to businesses trying to create jobs. Even with initiatives like the PDG, I continue to hear of lengthy, unjustifiable delays.

I am currently working on legislation to insert predictability, transparency and accountability into the permitting process. The legislation would not change or decrease any environmental protections, but would give businesses the ability to plan their projects effectively, not reside in indefinite permitting limbo, as they often do. Concepts being considered include deeming certain permits approved when DEP fails to meet the review and decision timeframes required by law without adequate justification, and applying private sector efficiencies through the use of certified third-party permit reviewers.

We need to protect our environment and not regulate job-creators out of business. These goals, I believe, can be accomplished at the same time.

I want to thank both Rep. Benninghoff and Sen. Wagner for taking precious time from their day to provide some insights.

If you have any questions or want more information, please contact Teresa at 717-329-6402 or Teresa@TDConnections.com.

 

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter