An article published in The Sentinel May 14 on House Bill 509, Reform to Increase Permit Transparency, paints a misleading picture of how the legislation would affect farmers in Pennsylvania.
To take such a huge leap from the purpose of the legislation to the devastating flooding Vic Barrick is facing at his Penn Township farm does a disservice to our many job creators in Pennsylvania, including our farmers.
Let me begin by saying that I have the utmost respect and admiration for our farmers. My grandfather was a farmer and my father was born and raised on a farm. Agriculture is the No. 1 economic industry in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The men and women who grow the food to feed us should be revered, respected and rewarded.
I have supported every pro-farmer initiative during my time in the Legislature, which is why I have been endorsed by the Farm Bureau. In fact, the Farm Bureau supports a number of regulatory reform bills authored by the House Republican Caucus.
The assertion that the bill will in some way change the scope of permit reviews and lead to harming farmland without consequence is false. The bill does nothing to change the statutory time for completing the reviews. It simply says that if someone waiting for a permit approval wants to see where their application is in the process, they have that right and the ability to do so with an online tracking system. Furthermore, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is already required by law, regulation, or policy to review and approve or deny permits in a timely manner.
If DEP, or any other state agency, cannot review applications within the required timeframe, under the bill they would be required to have a third party take over the review process. The permit is then issued by the appropriate state agency. Moreover, the bill would take that workload off of the regulators at DEP. Again, my bill does nothing to change the time period of approval, but would allow DEP regulators to return to their core function of “environmental protection,” enforcing the law, and ensuring that situations such as what Mr. Barrick is facing does not occur.
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Secondly, nothing in my legislation would create or cause such flooding to become rampant among our farmland. DEP is the responsible party that approved the permit for the nearby Penn Commerce Center warehouse that is ailing Mr. Barrick. Absurdly enough, county conservation district chief permitting inspector Matt Stough and Director Carl Goshorn actually told The Sentinel that routing water across Barrick’s property is technically allowed by DEP regulations, as long as “discharge” isn’t causing “a downstream nuisance or damage.”
It seems that the real culprit burdening Mr. Barrick is the DEP, as is the case at countless farms across Pennsylvania. Not only did they issue a permit to a warehouse that would have runoff close to farmland, but they apparently do not have rules against this practice. I believe this is an unfair situation and warrants further reporting to find out why no such regulation exists to protect our farmers who invest so much of their hard-earned money to comply with DEP regulations.
Incidentally, had my permit transparency legislation been enacted before the site construction, Mr. Barrick could have seen Ridge Development’s permit application in the online tracking system. This would have allowed him to raise concerns and perhaps avoid the current situation.
During my career in real estate, I have seen the effects of burdensome regulation on progress. However, it has been during my time as a legislator that constituents have come to me for assistance in delays of issuance of permits and licenses from state agencies. That is the origin of my legislation.
Gov. Wolf has identified the problem with permit delays in his administration and previously asked DEP for ideas on “how we could responsibly reduce permit time frames and backlogs.” In response to his call to action, DEP made significant progress in their Southwest Regional Office and reduced their wait times for some common development permits by 220 days as of 2018. While this was a good first step, stories like those of Mr. Barrick prove that further action is necessary.
It is my hope that my permit legislation, which passed the House with bipartisan support, would help farmers by improving transparency and efficiency at these agencies and requiring them to follow the law. Let’s continue to work together toward commonsense solutions, so we can reform government agencies for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians.