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Pennsylvania Brownfields & Environmental Law Information and Developments in Brownfields and Pennsylvania Environmental Law

“We are One DEP”

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In his recent testimony before the Senate Appropriations budget hearing, Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Mike Krancer told the committee members that one of his central themes, from the outset of his tenure as Secretary, has been to emphasize that the Department is "one DEP".   While others have focused their attention on his remarks regarding the Department’s oversight of Marcellus Shale development, I’d like to focus on his statement that "we are one DEP, not seven".

For those who are not familiar with PADEP, it is comprised of a Central Office in Harrisburg and six regional offices, including Wilkes-Barre, Norristown, Williamsport, Harrisburg, Meadville and Pittsburgh.   Central Office is responsible for policy and program development and the regional offices are responsible for the day-to-day implementation of those programs, including permit issuance, inspections and enforcement .  That’s a real over-simplification of what goes on at the Department, because there are so many more tasks that the Department performs, but that overview can help sharpen the focus on what it means to be "one DEP."  

The Department is responsible for administering a host of environmental laws and regulations.  In that regard, Secretary Krancer has repeatedly emphasized the need for the Department’s administration of those laws and regulations to be more consistent.  What does that mean?  At the most basic level, it means that once the Central Office has created a regulatory program and  provided guidance for its implementation, there needs to be uniformity in the implementation of that program.  That’s not to say that there is no place for using discretion, because many of the Department’s regulations allow for the use of discretion.  I think what it means is that, all else being equal, consistency in program implementation provides the regulated community with a degree of certainty that they need to guide their behavior.  Inconsistent application of rules and regulations, on the other hand, may cause regulated entities to question the fairness of regulatory programs and the reliability of regulatory decision-makers.  When a regulatory Department or agency develops a reputation for inconsistent application of its programs and policies, regulated entities may decide to do business elsewhere, in states where the regulatory climate is more predictable.   Regulatory consistency equals greater predictability in terms of decisions relating to permitting, enforcement, and remediation, all of which are essential for regulated entities to make choices for budgeting, allocating scarce resources, and targeting areas for growth and expansion.   With that said, consistency for consistency’s sake, may lose sight of why consistency is important to begin with.  It is important in terms of increasing predictability and allowing regulated entities to be able to rely on a set of rules that they know will be enforced equally and fairly.  It accords regulated entities a level playing field, so winners and losers are determined by the free marketplace.  Occasionally, the Department still needs to exercise the discretion given to it by the General Assembly.  That discretion is necessary to deal with situations where the regulations and policies are vague or ambiguous, or where the uniform enforcement would lead to decisions that ignore the underlying scientific facts or lack common sense.  Regulations and policies, no matter how much time and effort was put into their development, are not perfect, and discretion allows the Department to address those imperfections.

So what does it mean to be "one DEP".  Beyond achieving consistency, I believe it means that the Secretary wants each and every person working for the Department to see themselves as a meaningful part of a single enterprise, where everyone is working toward a common goal, whether they are in Central Office or in one of the regional offices.   I believe it means that even though the Department’s work is done by different programs, such as air, water, and waste, and in different regional offices, that everyone working in the Department recognizes the importance of all other programs and offices and works together, in a collaborative effort, to solve problems, as part of the same team.    

In Secretary Krancer’s testimony, he stated : "Our theme from the start has been "we are one DEP, not seven" and this is aimed at assuring more consistency of decision making within DEP. "   The words "We are one DEP"  have a lot of significance.  Probably more than what most people might recognize.  The fact that Secretary Krancer felt strongly enough about the words "We are One DEP" to put them in his written testimony is a very powerful statement about his vision for the Department.    That vision is one that many of us on the outside applaud and will be happy to work with the Secretary, in any way possible, to help bring about.