“It’s easier to get a permit to go to the moon than it is to build a project in Moon Township PA,” said Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry president Luke Bernstein at last week’s joint press call with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The two organizations hosted the call to discuss the urgency of modernizing Pennsylvania’s permitting processes to more advantageously develop the regional economy and infrastructure across the commonwealth.
Experts spoke on the subject of Pennsylvania’s infamously onerous permitting process which they’ve seen is driving business out of the state and into neighboring states. Bernstein cited the permitting processes in Ohio and West Virginia, where permits are being turned around in anywhere from 90-120 days, compared to the years it can take to get a similar permit in Pennsylvania.
“In the time it would take a builder to get a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection here in PA, that builder could go from start to finish with a completed building open for business in West Virginia,” Bernstein said. He went on to stress that environmental protection and efficient construction permitting can go hand in hand, stating “we should be able to do right by the environment in 90-120 days.”
Bernstein also highlighted how the permitting process affects those in important professions like medicine and education. He cited the example of nurses and doctors, hired by hospitals, who were delegated menial duties like cleaning out supply closets for a prolonged period of time while they waited for their licenses to come through from the state. Bernstein also pointed to the example of a teacher who had to wait so long for his license to be approved by Pennsylvania that he ended up taking a job teaching in Maryland.
Others participating in the call attested that the permitting process in Pennsylvania is not only lengthy, but unnecessarily difficult and nontransparent. Within the current permitting structure, companies seeking permits have no assurance when they begin the process of applying that they will know whether or not they are approved within a set number of days.
Additionally, if there is a minor error on the permitting paperwork, companies are often made to restart the entire process over again – this can happen after having already waited a considerable amount of time for the application to be processed and reviewed to begin with. Those who spoke on the call stressed the importance of promoting a more business-friendly bureaucratic culture which eagerly works with companies to expeditiously resolve these application errors.
In an effort to address these structural issues and streamline the permitting process, Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-Jacobus) has introduced Senate Bill 350 which would create an online tracking process for permit applicants to improve transparency and reassure developers their projects haven’t been forgotten.
Sen. Phillips-Hill described the measure as “taking things we’ve become accustomed to in everyday life and applying it to permits and state government.” The online tracking system would resemble that which customers use on Amazon in order to give companies real time updates on the status of their permit applications.
National stakeholders and state policymakers remain hopeful that these changes can provide a starting point to reduce the number of companies taking their business outside of the Commonwealth, and leverage Pennsylvania’s unique geographical advantage to become a hub of commerce and industry in a highly-populated region of the country.
Olivia DeMarco is an Editorial Associate for Broad + Liberty. She previously served as a legislative aide in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Temple University.