Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Sierra Club Pennsylvania Opposes House Bill 1659 On Permit Modifications

This letter was sent to every PA state representative this morning!

Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter
PO Box 606
Harrisburg, PA 17108
717-232-0101   Fax: 717-238-6330
June 26, 2012

Dear Representative,
The Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter urges you to oppose House Bill 1659 on final passage.  This bill would undermine the fundamental mission of DEP to protect our air, water, land and public health. This legislation would limit DEP’s ability to adequately review applications for pollution and other permits.

The bill imposes short and arbitrary deadlines on DEP’s review of permit applications without recognizing the differing levels of complexity amongst permit applications, and then declares that permits shall be deemed approved if DEP cannot meet those deadlines.  To make matters worse, because DEP’s budget has been cut substantially since 2006, the agency has fewer permit reviewers to meet these arbitrary deadlines.

Some permits – those with the greatest potential to impact local communities – require more time and attention than other less controversial permit applications.  For example, DEP’s decision to authorize construction of a municipal waste landfill should not be treated the same as a decision to expand a water treatment facility. 

House Bill 1659 requires DEP within 90 days to develop a plan to use non-governmental employees to review permits designed to protect the public health.  The proposal fundamentally changes the relationship between government agencies and the public by putting protection of public health and the environment in the hands of private contractors that are not directly responsible to elected officials, municipal government, or public voters.

While regulatory agencies such as DEP should continually strive to make its permit processes timely and efficient, getting permits issued by arbitrary deadlines cannot be an end in itself.  The process authorized by this legislation undermines the responsibility of the agency to protect citizens and their rights. There are alternative means, including the General Assembly’s substantial budgetary and oversight powers, to improve DEP permitting.

We urge you to vote NO on this very bad legislation. 
Jeff Schmidt
Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter

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