Proposal Shows Opportunity for Improved DEP
The legislature’s Environment Committee held a public hearing this week on a proposal to address concerns over permitting and enforcement programs at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
SB-60 is largely a response to a DEP report that concluded the agency could not meet the permit processing time frames established by the new regulatory reform law (PA 10-158) without adding about 60 new staff and $500 million per year in revenues. A recent report citing a drop in compliance with environmental laws in Connecticut from 90% in 2008 to 88.6% in 2009 is also a concern to the committee.
While the bill focuses on the question of adequate staffing at the DEP, it also provides an opportunity for a much-needed discussion as to whether the real issue is staffing, or whether the current DEP permitting and enforcement strategies are designed to effectively and efficiently achieve their goals of environmental protection and improvement.
Times have changed
Many of DEP’s programs and regulations reflect the environmental challenges and the “us- versus-them” attitudes of the 1970s and 1980s. Permitting and enforcement programs in particular are focused almost exclusively on the activities of businesses.
But Connecticut’s environmental challenges, and the global economy, have changed dramatically since then. We have also come to recognize that a healthy environment and a healthy economy are not only compatible – they are, in fact, tightly linked.
Today’s air and water quality challenges, for example, have far more to do with the impacts of transportation, storm water runoff, municipal sewage overflows, and wood burning than with business and industry.
The Council on Environmental Quality says:
“Many more miles of rivers and streams are degraded today by runoff from developed areas than are polluted by sewage treatment plants and industrial discharges combined.”
Addressing today’s environmental challenges in a 21st century global economy will require innovative regulatory approaches developed through collaboration, shared learning and shared responsibility.
In recent years, however, relationships between the DEP, some environmental groups and the business community have instead reflected what the traditional regulatory scheme fosters: contentious, litigious and adversarial interactions. These only waste time and resources and squander opportunities for environmental progress.
A better, more effective and more efficient approach to permitting and enforcement could be achieved within current DEP resources–without rolling back environmental standards or weakening enforcement.
Such an approach would encourage innovation, reward going beyond “compliance,” utilize “smart” enforcement and measure success based on real environmental progress rather than on statistics measuring the number of inspections, enforcement actions, penalties and even compliance percentage.
The DEP should focus its more formal and resource-intensive enforcement on violations that pose a real risk to the environment and on facilities that may be operating without required permits or registrations. Less-formal and resource-intensive tools, such as compliance assistance and consulting, could then be applied to the more common violations (such as paperwork).
Doing that would improve environmental protection and benefit the economy through lower compliance costs for those working to comply, and from a more level playing field – even though it would also likely cause compliance-rate statistics to fall, at least in the short-term.
The DEP is also required under the new reform law to revise its water-discharge permitting program. Only the most complex facilities should be required to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of DEP engineers reviewing and approving every detail of a facility’s plan for water discharge treatment. For the rest, the DEP can establish clear and enforceable discharge limits but leave the specific engineering to the facility and its engineers.
These performance-based and targeted approaches to permitting and enforcement would improve the current one-size-fits-all scheme and allow the agency to better focus its resources in a manner that benefits the environment and the economy.
CBIA urges the legislature and the Governor to take advantage of this critical opportunity to re-engineer the DEP in a manner that will benefit both the environment and our economy.
For more information on CBIA’s ideas for improving Connecticut’s regulatory climate and our environment, contact Eric Brown at 860.244.1926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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