Under the able leadership of former DEP Commissioner/EPA Region II Administrator Christopher Daggett, yet another attempt was made to make the DEP’s rulemaking procedures and processes for land use, water supply, and wastewater permitting more “efficient.” The conclusions of Commissioner Daggett’s Permit Efficiency Review Task Force included three key recommendations that focused on: (1) technology for permitting and file sharing; (2) resource management; and (3) rulemaking. While the technology recommendation, which suggests upgrades to state-of-the-art e-permitting capabilities and electronic file sharing, comes with an estimated $25 million price tag to be paid over five years, the other 39 categories of recommendations regarding resource management and rulemaking are expected to be “implemented” over the next 18 months. As the Permit Efficiency Review Task Force noted, this implementation will only be accomplished with the “buy-in of staff.”
While outside the charge of the Administrative Order that established the Task Force, two additional issues that directly impact the “efficiency” of the DEP also were identified. First, without strong science that provides the foundation for the policies, guidance, directives and regulations of the DEP, many of the DEP’s efforts could be subject to challenge and delays. In that regard, the Task Force recommended that a study group be convened to evaluate resource requirements for the DEP’s Office of Science and Research (OSR) and examine possible ways to restore the stature of that office, with a particular focus on collaborative efforts with academic institutions and noted practitioners. Second, the Task Force observed that the DEP has an “overlapping, conflicting, and too often overly complex maze of regulations” that govern its procedures and approval processes. Accordingly, the Task Force recommended that, with assistance of an outside organization, the DEP should undertake a complete and multiyear review of the statutes and regulations governing the DEP, with the goal of streamlining its rules and making them less complex.
As demonstrated by the numerous Task Force documents that are on the DEP website, including interim reports, information concerning current staffing, program operations, budgets and fees received, key permit review criteria and objectives, new proposed procedures and other possible improvements, the Task Force’s conclusion is the result of much hard work.