The state Department of Environmental Protection is attempting to change a new law that gives the agency 90 days to approve or deny a number of the permits it oversees.
Under the law, adopted as part of the bipartisan budget Governor Dannel Malloy signed last fall, if DEEP does not take action on certain permit applications within the 90-day window, the permit is deemed to be approved.
DEEP commissioner Robert Klee recently called the requirement, which covers about 45 permit programs, "awful public policy," adding that the agency is scrambling its limited permitting resources to comply.
"I will never put the health or safety of the residents or the environment of this state in jeopardy by this automatic approval," the Connecticut Mirror reported Klee telling a group of environmental activists.
"My staff has been spending an inordinate and wasted amount of time to interpret this bad law in the least harmful way."
DEEP's often lengthy approval process has been an issue for business owners for a number of years, particularly manufacturers, including those wanting to start a new business, expand existing operations, or add a new production line not covered under an existing permit.
DEEP has made progress streamlining many of its permit programs by issuing general permits that create requirements for activities common to many Connecticut businesses.
It relieves the agency and the affected business from having to negotiate individual permits designed specifically for that business.
But general permits are often not an option for activities associated with new production lines, and the wait times for individual permits can hamper economic development and manufacturing expansion, while fostering a perception that Connecticut is not the best place to locate or expand a business.
The new law differs from separate legislation introduced during the 2017 General Assembly session, which required DEEP provide an explanation for not making an application decision within 90 days, and estimate how much longer the process would take.
That initial proposal did not provide for automatic approval once the 90 days expire.
Streamlined Process Needed
CBIA senior counsel Eric Brown, who submitted testimony in support of that legislation, said Connecticut's business community supports the overall concept.
"We thought it was a reasonable way to send a signal to the private sector and economic development community that Connecticut was serious about trying to foster a more streamlined process for economic development," he said.
Brown favors modifying the law rather than repealing it.
"It would be a missed opportunity to help make Connecticut more attractive for economic development and job creation," he said.
Brown added he would like to see any revisions include language authorizing DEEP to prioritize permit applications associated with starting new businesses or expanding existing manufacturing operations.
"As is the case with any organization, DEEP's resource constraints require prioritization, and CBIA members are more than willing to work with DEEP, as well as environmental organizations, to help the agency with that challenge," Brown said.
The legislature's Environment Committee is expected to consider the issue during the current General Assembly session.