Yesterday, Secretary Krancer formally announced his reorganization for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. According to the Secretary's announcement, there will be a new Bureau of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields. That Bureau will be moved back under the Deputy Secretary that has authority over Waste (in addition to air, radiation and remediation). Right there, that is a significant change and one for the better. Originally, when Act 2 was passed in 1995, the Land Recycling Program was put under the Waste Management Bureau, which fell under the Deputy Secretary overseeing the implementation of all of the Department's waste programs. That ensured program consistency, inasmuch as the manager of the Waste Management Bureau (Jim Snyder at that time) could set policy in Central Office for the Act 2 program, and that policy would be implemented by regional managers whose programs aligned with Central Office. When Secretary McGinty reorganized, she created a Deputy Secretary for Community Revitalization and Local Government Support, and the Land Recycling Program was moved under that Deputate. The problem that created was that it took the Act 2 program out of alignment with the regional offices, making it more difficult to manage the implementation of Act 2 policy in a consistent manner statewide. It also marginalized the brownfield program by placing it under a much smaller Deputate with less authority and what we'd call "juice", which is what allows a program to grow and prosper and get things done. I'm sure the people responsible for the prior re-organization thought that moving the Act 2 program would be a positive, but I'd have to say that in hindsight the move only served to de-emphasize the importance of the Act 2 program.
I always thought that the prior administration put too much emphasis on green energy within the Department and not enough emphasis on brownfield redevelopment. As such, one program (green energy) grew while the other withered. With this reorganization, Secretary Krancer, in my mind, is elevating the brownfield program, putting it back in its proper and original alignment within the Department, and putting it on a path to increased prominence, consistent implementation, prosperity and growth.
The Secretary said that "the move is a reflection of the Governor's and my belief in the importance of Brownfields development to Pennsylvania." Boy, that's a refreshing statement.
I've always said that the Act 2 program is as much a jobs program as it is an environmental program. Putting old industrial sites back into productive use creates jobs, eliminates blight, and energizes communities. I've seen it with my own eyes. It works. With that said, at times recently it felt like the Act 2 program has been on auto pilot as the Department turned its attention to other things. Maybe that's what happens when programs move from innovative and new to mature and mundane.
There's also been some unnecessary back-sliding allowing the Department to make brownfield remediation projects look more like HSCA- type response actions, where site characterization can go on with no end, and remedies seem more about getting every last drop than addressing realistic risks and getting sites back into productive use. I believe some of that back-sliding may have been caused by taking the Act 2 program out of its proper alignment and weakening Central Office's ability to maintain program consistency in the implementation of Act 2.
Here's one example. Although the General Assembly directed the Department to consider the cost of the remediation as a factor (see Section 304(j)) in reviewing proposed remedies at Act 2 sites, that seems to have been completely lost in translation. At a time when unemployment is above 9 percent and companies (like the Commonwealth) have to closely watch every dollar that they spend, the brownfield program has to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Businesses rightfully complain about a government that imposes unnecessary costs on business and then wonders why those businesses are furloughing people and can't create new jobs. It's pretty simple. A dollar spent on unnecessary site characterization or a remedy that doesn't take cost or risk into consideration is a dollar that can't be spent on hiring, payroll and benefits for new employees.
When Act 2 was written, it provided significant discretion to the Department in developing and implementing the regulations. In the early years of Act 2, that discretion was used to speed up cleanups, quickly put sites back into productive use, and prove to the naysayers how successful the program could be at creating jobs and economic opportunities. The program rightfully won accolades and awards and was seen as a model for other states to follow. What I've seen more recently, however, is a program that needs a shot in the arm, that needs to get back to its roots, and that needs to once again become part of the economic engine that drives this Commonwealth.
I trust that this reorganization will put the Act 2 program on that path. It will give Central Office more of a say in the day-to-day implementation of Act 2 policy, and that should lead to greater consistency and the use of discretion in a positive (job creating) way instead of a negative (keep characterizing and remediating until we tell you your done) way. I am heartened to see that brownfield development is a priority for this administration. So much time has been spent on Marcellus Shale (for good reason) that it's taken time and emphasis away from the other environmental programs that also create jobs in this Commonwealth. Act 2 does that. It always has and the folks in the Department who are the true believers in the power of Act 2 see that.
I know I sound like a preacher, but what we need is for the Act 2 program to , as the Secretary would say, "Get Back to Basics". This reorganization is the start. Where it goes from here is up to those within the Department who are in the chain of command that oversees the Act 2 program, from the regional ECP directors to the director of the Land Recycling Program, through the new Bureau Director, and up to the new Deputy Secretary. I wish then well with the implementation of the reorganization, and I stand ready to assist, both as a member of the Cleanup Standards Scientific Advisory Board (appointed by this Secretary) and as someone who formally stood in that chain of command and presented the Act 2 regulations to the Environmental Quality Board. I see very good things ahead for the Act 2 program.