Chamber officials, lawmakers press for more aggressive permitting reform

by JOHN FINNERTY, Capitolwire

HARRISBURG – State and federal chamber officials joined with lawmakers Tuesday to call for further action to reform permitting processes in the state, arguing that Pennsylvania remains at a competitive disadvantage due to the amount of time it takes businesses to get the state’s OK to begin projects.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, said that she has a constituent who moved his business to West Virginia because he’d wanted to expand the facility and he was able to get the new facility built and open in less time in West Virginia then he would get permits to get started in Pennsylvania.

Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said a similar circumstance helped prompt US Steel to decide to open 900-job facility in Arkansas instead of Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania needs to be more competitive,” Bernstein said.

They were part of a call with reporters Tuesday that also involved representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor groups.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, made permitting reform one of his first priorities after taking office earlier this year. That order dictated that agencies set deadlines in which they will provide permits or the applicants will be refunded their application fee. Earlier this month, the governor’s office announced that as part of the administration’s efforts to improve the state government’s online services, the Department of Environmental Protection is working to shift more permit applications online.

“Currently, only 3% of DEP applications and permitting licenses are submitted online,” according to an Aug. 15 press release from the governor’s office.

Bernstein said that the administration’s efforts haven’t gone far enough.

“People don’t want their money back, they want their permit,” he said, adding that the state suffers from a “dysfunctional and unpredictable permitting process.”

Bernstein said the state needs the kind of reforms spelled out in Senate Bill 350, which passed the state Senate in May, but has yet to move in the state House.

Among the reforms included in that legislation would be a provision requiring agencies to create online systems for applicants to track the status of their permit applications.

Bernstein noted that people who order pizza online can track the progress of their dinner but permit applicants don’t get the same kind of service from the state government.

Senate Bill 350 also includes provisions that would require state agencies to notify applicants within 10 days if their permit application is incomplete and to notify applicants within 20 days if there is a technical deficiency in the application.