Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board on April 13 published proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Air Quality Fee Schedule, which contains the fees that DEP charges to process applications for plan approvals and operating permits and to administer issued operating permits.
Most significantly, the proposed amendments would:
increase the fees for submitting many types of plan approvals beginning in 2020, with further increases to those fees set for 2026 and 2031;
increase Title V and non-Title V operating permit application fees and annual administration fees, also beginning in 2020 with further increases set for 2026 and 2031; and
impose fees for certain determinations and assessments that DEP regularly performs for regulated sources, including plant-wide applicability limit determinations, requests for determination, confidential business information determinations, risk assessments, and evaluations of asbestos removal notification forms.
DEP’s fees for operating permit administration and operating permit and plan approval applications were last increased in 2005. The proposed amendments to the Air Quality Fee Schedule would not change the fee (of $91.32) that Title V sources pay on each ton of their annual emissions of regulated pollutants; by regulation, that fee is increased every year to keep pace with increases in the Consumer Price Index.
The fee increases are intended to address revenue shortfalls that DEP’s Air Quality Program has experienced in recent years, resulting in reductions in staff and delays in permit processing times. GASP has detailed how these delays have affected the Title V Operating Permit programs in DEP’s regional offices in a recent blog post.
According to the Environmental Quality Board, the proposed fee increases “will allow [DEP] to maintain staffing levels in the Air Quality Program as well as cover operating expenses such as telecommunications, electricity, travel, auto supplies and fuel along with the purchase of fixed assets such as air samplers and monitoring equipment, vehicles and trailers.”
DEP determined the proposed fee amounts “by identifying the number of staff required and the approximate time necessary to complete each review or action, including the amount of salaries and benefits,” and compared them to the fees charged by air quality permitting authorities in Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties and neighboring states, according to the Environmental Quality Board.
It is not surprising that it has become impossible for DEP to administer its air quality permitting program using a fee schedule that is based on taxing constantly decreasing emissions and that, to a large extent, is almost 25 years old.
Expenditures by DEP’s air quality permitting programs currently exceed revenues by millions of dollars and will continue to do so unless the fees charged by the programs are increased. These revenue shortfalls have already resulted in job cuts to permitting staff, which in turn have caused delays in processing times for plan approval and operating permit applications. The revenue shortfalls might also negatively impact DEP’s ability to monitor compliance by sources across the commonwealth.
The proposed amendments to DEP’s Air Quality Fee Schedule are an overdue step toward getting DEP’s air quality permitting programs back on sound financial footing.
More information about the proposed amendments is available in the April 13, 2019 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
Written comments regarding the proposed amendments will be accepted by the Environmental Quality Board by email through June 17, 2019, addressed to RegComments@pa.gov, and may also be submitted to the board using DEP’s eComment webpage, at https://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/eComment/.