Faster turnarounds on permit applications at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are a key goal of this year's landmark, bipartisan regulatory reform law. A first review by the DEP of its programs confirms what Connecticut businesses have long known--there is room for improvement. 

The result of a bipartisan drive to make it easier to do business with the state, Public Act 10-158 (HB-5208) is designed to help employers cut through regulatory red tape at the DEP and make sure the state's environment is protected.  The law seeks speedier permitting at the DEP, more compliance help to businesses, and better coordination between state agencies--all of which should help move projects more quickly from planning to reality while keeping strong environmental protections.

For businesses, a key to getting development projects underway--and jobs launched--is how quickly permit applications can be approved by the DEP. The law calls for the agency to review its current performance and find ways to meet goals recommended by the Governor's Permitting Task Force, including:

  •  60 days for determining the sufficiency of an application
  • 180 days to make an initial determination on its feasibility

In reviewing its most recent annual data, the DEP found that 12 of its 25 individual permit programs are not currently meeting the 60-day goal. Nine of the programs are, and four others are not required to.

For the 180-day tentative determination goal, 13 of 25 programs are presently meeting it. Only nine DEP programs are meeting the combined goals. While that means there's room for improvement, the DEP also found that progress is already being made.

The review "clearly shows the department's Lean projects and previous streamlining efforts have helped reduce permitting time frames," says the report's executive summary. Unfortunately, the report concludes that "Meeting the time frame goals … will require a significant increase in program staffing levels." The DEP did identify more than 40 steps to improve the current situation, including:

  • Expanding pre-application meetings with applicants
  • Prioritizing high-economic-impact projects
  • Continuing to apply Lean processes
  • Developing "simpler processes for permit renewals where no changes are needed."

However, it is unclear from the report how much improvement in processing times can be expected from these measures. Other changes recommended by the DEP include eliminating programs that are "no longer necessary to meet core mission or emerging needs; and using the right tools to accomplish the permitting task--such as switching from individual permits to general permits where appropriate."

"The DEP's comprehensive report will serve as a valuable tool for the next administration," says CBIA's Eric Brown. "But it will be up to the new leadership as to whether they use this information to take bold action to improve Connecticut's image as a difficult place to business , or whether they will be satisfied with incremental change that may make things a little better, but not get the state to where we need to be." -- Eric Brown

Eric Brown is a CBIA associate counsel. He may be reached at 860.244.1926 or eric.brown@cbia.com.