In speaking with business owners throughout the 46th Senatorial District, one of the most frequent concerns I hear is the threat of government burying industries in mountains of regulations and red tape. Many laws created in Harrisburg are borne out of good intentions, but ultimately result in expensive headaches for businesses across the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in regulatory restrictions, with more than 153,000 on the books. Many of these regulations are outdated, burdensome and expensive for businesses. Nationwide, studies suggest that excessive federal regulations cost the economy as much as $2 trillion annually – more than the federal government collects in income taxes each year.
Prior to being elected to the Senate, I opened the first quick-lube business in the Mon Valley in 1988, called the Duke of Oil. As a small business owner, I understand that navigating this tangled web of government red tape can be a full-time job. In most cases, the best effort state lawmakers can make to support a strong economy is to identify and eliminate problems that government created in the first place.
Streamlining the permit process
The energy industry bears the brunt of many of these regulatory obstacles. Unnecessary permitting delays are one of the barriers to innovation and investment. Improving the permitting process will provide the certainty employers need to move forward on projects that will create jobs and support further investments in our communities, while ensuring strong and consistent standards that protect our environment and natural resources.
For example, under the Department of Environmental Protection’s own established timelines, review of an Erosion and Sediment Control Permit should take less than 45 business days, and as few as 14 days under the ‘expedited’ process which requires working with a licensed professional.
Unfortunately, even these expedited permits are taking in excess of 100 days in the southwestern region. These delays and inconsistencies slow development of critical infrastructure projects and discourage our efforts to attract capital investment to Pennsylvania. In the past, I authored two bills to improve the process that has helped bring attention to this issue. It has yielded some improvements overall, but work still remains to be done to ensure statewide review times are where they should be.
Other legislation I am working on will help strengthen the permitting appeals process. The bill would restore accountability and integrity to the permit appeals process by limiting appeals to the issues raised in the public comment period.
This legislation would not limit the ability of concerned citizens to submit comments on proposed permits, nor would it limit their ability to appeal a decision. It would only ensure that if a citizen or group deemed a decision was important enough to sue the DEP, that they voice the concerns during the comment period when there is a record of decision. This standard already exists under Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, and it would bring Pennsylvania in line with the federal process for appealing permitting decisions under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This legislation has already earned the support of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and I am hopeful the full Senate will consider it in 2020.
Strengthening oversight of government regulations
Although the energy industry is one of the most common targets of government overreach, problems related to regulations touch a number of other sectors of the economy. Rules handed down by state agencies can have repercussions every bit as serious as those contained in any law passed by lawmakers.
A significant number of bills approved by the General Assembly give state agencies the authority to create regulations. In some cases, these regulations do not match the intent of lawmakers, creating new and unintended consequences for businesses. If these regulations are developed when the General Assembly is not in session, lawmakers may not have an opportunity to raise concerns until after the regulations are already in effect.
I supported passage of a bill recently that would avoid these problems by strengthening legislative oversight of the regulatory process. Giving lawmakers a stronger role in the process will help to eliminate most regulatory issues before they ever have a chance to affect businesses.
The bill would require state agencies to deliver proposed regulations to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and to lawmakers in a timely manner to ensure a thorough review. The bill would also extend the time period for review to coincide with days the General Assembly is in session to ensure that fewer burdensome regulations slip through the cracks.
All of these proposals could ultimately play a role in creating a more business friendly environment in Pennsylvania that supports job growth and new investments in our communities. Our state has a wealth of resources to offer; removing the crushing burden of overregulation is the surest way to unlock that potential and set us on a path to greater prosperity.
If we want to show the world that Pennsylvania is open for business, we can start by getting government out of the way.
By Senator Camera Bartolotta
Senator Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, represents Pennsylvania’s 46th Senatorial District.
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