Rell signs law aiming to speed up DEP permitting process

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has signed into law a bill intended to streamline issuance of state permits and licenses.

Rell’s office said the bill, a compromise between industry and environmental groups, will “expedite job creation by breaking through bureaucratic backlogs without undermining environmental protections.”

The relatively uneventful passage of the bill was an unexpected conclusion to a sometimes tense debate throughout the legislative session between environmentalists and the business community.

The business community said the lengthy delays were holding up development, while environmentalists worried speeding up the process would diminish environmental protections.

“This legislation will make Connecticut much more business friendly yet strikes a very important balance by safeguarding our environment,” Rell said.

Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the Commerce Committee, said the law is a job creator.

“Businesses have complained about the state DEP being a roadblock to progress,” he said. “There have been a series of delays on moving certain projects forward in this state that would have resulted in jobs and economic development. To businesses, time is money, so if we can speed up the DEP review process maybe we can attract and retain businesses to locate and expand here in Connecticut.”

The DEP never disputed that more needs to be done to speed up the process, but did point to their dwindling resources. DEP has shed 150 workers and seen its budget cut by 15 percent in the past two years. With 950 employees, its staffing is at a 12-year low.

The compromise bill creates a new state office whose sole responsibility is to expedite the permitting and licensing process for projects that will create at least 50 jobs, develop a green technology business, be transit-oriented or be located in an area in need of environmental remediation.

It also creates time frames within which applications should be approved or denied, but does not penalize DEP for failing to meet the guidelines. Rather, it requires the agency to publicly report why it was unable to do so. It also requires a complete review of every permit.

Roger Reynolds, a lawyer with Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said the bill is a “reasonable” compromise.

“The final law made very clear environmental standards and regulations could not be overridden. We’re certainly content with speeding up the process as long as the environmental protections remain,” he said