DEP touts faster permit process; business not persuaded

With a new legislative session just a month away, the state Department of Environmental Protection this week is touting its efforts to streamline the permitting process–efforts some business leaders say are a good beginning, but not enough.

DEP has long been criticized by the business community and state legislators over the length of time it takes to get permits. That criticism prompted legislation earlier this year setting timetables for DEP approval of permits.

Even before that, however, the department had started an internal effort to reduce the time required in 25 permitting programs. This week, the department unveiled the results of that program to make its workings more efficient, called “Lean” after manufacturing streamlining programs developed by Toyota and dating to the 1990s.

On Monday, DEP staged an exhibit of posters documenting dramatic reductions in the number of steps and amount of paperwork required to gain permits for everything from handling trash to remediating brownfields.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and some key state legislators who have criticized the DEP’s response time as bad for business made a swing through the exhibit, and talked about keeping the state competitive in difficult times.

“As I’m walking around here I’m truly impressed,” Rell said.

But Eric Brown, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s associate counsel, says the DEP hasn’t made enough progress on speeding up permitting. Lean is a positive step, Brown said, but the state still takes too long to issue permits-and that drives business away.

Under the Lean program, teams of staffers from every division of the DEP-from remediation of brownfields to trash and recycling to underground storage tanks, radiation monitoring, and more-met for a week to go through their permitting, compliance, and administrative processes, step by step.

The offices in many cases made drastic changes between 2008 and 2010. For example, the water enforcement program reduced the number of days from about 350 to about 140. The solid waste (which covers trash, recycling, and anything thrown away) program more than doubled its number of inspections and cut its application backlog by 11 percent. The Office of Long Island Sound Programs reported a 70-percent cut in time it took to process permits. Boating safety courses and certification now requires seven forms, down from 26 forms two years ago.

Still, DEP reported in late September that nearly half of its 25 permitting departments had not met the deadlines set by the law passed earlier this year-two months for a preliminary review of an application and six months to issue a tentative ruling. The agency, which has seen its staff dwindle in recent years, said it would need another $500,000 in its budget and 53 more staff members to comply with the law.