The Monroe Action Plan
A map to affect change and bring about more efficient, effective, consistent, and timely regulatory oversight
Monroe County Citizens Against Regulatory Excess Environmental, Legislative, and Transportation Committees
Originally published September 1, 2010. Revision 2 published February 11, 2011
If Monroe County hopes to attract industry, add new jobs, and diversify its tax base, regulatory reforms that shorten the permitting process and allow county projects to compete on a level playing field are imperative.
High unemployment (10.1 percent as of December 1, 2010) and the need to provide services to our expanding population while reducing dependence on the personal and real estate taxes of local residents places tremendous pressure on elected officials, economic development professionals, and private developers to attract new business and industry to the Pocono region. However, despite the need to rapidly grow the regional economy; these professionals are regularly frustrated by a regulatory environment which is increasingly complex, time consuming, and expensive.
Moreover, it appears that projects in Monroe County are often reviewed under different standards than projects in other regions, placing the county at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to enticing new industrial and commercial businesses to choose Monroe County. In a 2009 study conducted to help the Poconos set its economic development marketing agenda, one corporate real estate executive bluntly noted, “It takes too long too get on the ground up there.”
The people who make up Monroe County Citizens Against Regulatory Excess (Monroe C.A.R.E.) understand the daunting responsibilities and workloads handled by both elected officials and appointed regulators, but believe that lack of collaboration, entrenched mindsets, and a failure to comprehend regulatory oversight’s real impact on the region’s (and the Commonwealth’s) economic development are impeding regulatory reform that properly balances regulatory protections with the region"s need to quickly stimulate economic growth.
The organization’s mission is simple:
Monroe County Citizens Against Regulatory Excess’ mission is to achieve binding and timely review of Pocono area land development permits through collaboration with land development and elected and appointed agency officials where all recognize the need for balanced growth and accountability to the Constitution and enabling laws of both the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Reform of guiding legislation and improvements in the consistency of regulatory review and the timeliness of regulatory agency response are needed if Monroe County is going to effectively compete for jobs and investment.
Reform of guiding legislation and improvements in the consistency of regulatory review and the timeliness of regulatory agency response are needed if Monroe County is going to effectively compete for jobs and investment.
Monroe C.A.R.E.’s Action Committee has reviewed and approved recommendations from its Transportation, Environmental, and Legislative Committees. These recommendations, subject to continuous review and update, clearly state the problems at hand and offer balanced solutions. We believe this paper, which will continually evolve, is the map that can guide us out of the regulatory quagmire, bringing needed business and jobs to the region, while helping regional regulatory offices to handle their workloads more quickly and efficiently.
As of December 1, 2010, Monroe CARE contacted all elected and appointed county and municipal officials via letter or e-mail, provided them with our organizational mission statement and invited them to participate in the process. A number of municipalities have already accepted this offer and are actively engaged with Monroe CARE.
MonroeCARE.org was launched on October 1. The Website highlights CARE’s organizational agenda, tracks progress on CARE’s organizational goals, provides opportunities for legislative outreach and interaction (where necessary), informs the public regarding key issues, and provides a forum for public participation that helps achieve CARE’s organizational mission. Key components of Web site functionality are currently being updated to further facilitate participation from Monroe CARE members and the general public.
The initial iteration of the Monroe Action Plan, presented the organization’s view of the problems in an Issues/Solutions format. Looking back, some items suggested as solutions were closer to organizational goals for prompting actions on the part of elected/appointed officials. This “second printing” of the Monroe Action Plan updates the document in an effort to start discerning between goals and solutions. Any initially proposed goal or solution on which progress has been made will be followed by a note on Monroe CARE’s progress to date.
Issue: Engineering and Regulatory Consistency
A primary problem faced by project engineers is subjective interpretations of written guidelines by both Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff. Anecdotal evidence and discussions with development professionals in other regions of Pennsylvania suggest that review processes are more stringent in Northeast Pennsylvania generally, and the Poconos specifically. Guidelines are frequently treated as regulation during the permit review process, usurping the ability of design professionals to make sensible and diverse design choices.
Many projects in the Northeast Region require multiple permits that are reviewed by separate reviewers, resulting in potential delays and conflicts when one permit affects decisions or design choices in other necessary permits.
Where Best Management Practices (BMPs) are concerned, reviewers often insist on compliance with the highest possible standard, even where published guidelines allow developers and engineers to work within a range of BMPs. Guidelines are often treated as regulatory minimums. Instead, reviewers should be encouraged to allow flexibility in light of site-specific characteristics and to assist applicants in meeting the intent of the guidelines when exact conformance is not practical and/or necessary. Reviewers should be permitted to exercise judgment with supervisors and Department support.
It is also possible to find cases where PennDOT and DEP goals are in conflict. One example is a project slated for an existing stretch of roadway that features a shoulder width that falls within the written guidelines. Design engineers sought to maintain the existing shoulder width, but PennDOT reviewers directed the designers to reengineer the plans to include an eight-foot shoulder. The result will be hundreds of additional feet of road surface to be maintained, increased stormwater runoff, an appearance aesthetically different from the adjoining roadways, and thousands of additional dollars in engineering and construction fees. This requirement is inconsistent with DEP’s direction to reduce stormwater runoff and thermal impacts on the environment.
Goals / Solutions
- C.A.R.E. will meet with the Executive and Legislative Branches of Commonwealth Government to in an effort to ensure regulatory accountability and streamline the regulatory burden hamstringing the economic development community. Our goals are to seek reforms in line with those outlined below.
The regulatory power granted to state agencies comes from the state legislature, while marching orders concerning regulatory policy frequently flow from the executive branch. In a time when Pennsylvania is competing to attract business, our elected officials must engage regulatory agencies to ensure that they are not impeding commerce by wasting the time and money of both the taxpayers and the development community. Environmental protection and infrastructure development are possible without adding additional time and cost burdens. Multi-agency coordination of the permitting decisions should be investigated.
When regulatory changes are made, the legislature should ensure that adequate training of both regulatory reviewers and design professionals is provided, allowing both sides to understand their roles in the process and facilitating a common understanding of how regulations will be applied.
Legislators should also provide legal protections to limit the detrimental culture of liability avoidance. Zero-risk policies are unrealistic and economically prohibitive. Passing laws providing adequate liability protection to state agencies and state licensed professionals is necessary to achieve this goal.
C.A.R.E. supports the hiring of adequate staff to assure proper review of all applications in a timely and businesslike manner. Appropriate staffing levels are critical to achieving a culture of compliance assistance.
PROGRESS: During the September – November 2010 election cycle, Monroe CARE representatives met with candidates Tom Corbett (now Governor Corbett) and Rosemary Brown (now PA State Rep PA-189); State Represenatives John Siptroth (D-189), Mike Carroll (D-118), Mario Scavello (R-176); amd PA State Senate Candidate John Blake (now State Senator PA-22). Group Representatives also met with Pat Browne (now US Senator) and Lou Barletta (now US Representative US-11),
During these sessions, each candidate and sitting official was receptive to our message and there was universal agreement that regulations must to be streamlined to improve Pennsylvania’s competitive position vis-a-vis economic development. In 2011, Monroe CARE will maintain contact with these and all other elected officials representing Monroe County, hoping to enlist their assistance in our regulatory reform and streamlining efforts.
- C.A.R.E. will form an Engineering Committee to compare permitting procedures in Monroe County and other parts of Pennsylvania, seeking direct examples of the inconsistencies between policy and regulatory interpretations in Monroe County and surrounding communities.
The Engineering Committee will coordinate with C.A.R.E.‘s Legislative Committee to identify and summarize engineering related issues that may be affected by pending legislation, new regulation, or changes to current regulation; suggest which regulations should be evaluated in the pursuit of improved conditions for state and local economic development; and join in meetings with legislators/bureaucrats to discuss issues and offer positive solutions.
The Engineering Committee will interact with C.A.R.E.‘s Transportation Committee to review current Highway Occupancy Permit (HOP) standards and / or other PennDOT policies that hamper economic development.
PROGRESS: CARE’s Engineering Committee is formed. The group is reviewing how regulation is applied in other areas and comparing those findings with typical scenarios in Monroe County. This committee is also spearheading meetings with PA DEP and PennDOT.
- C.A.R.E. will establish regular meetings with regulatory agencies to help develop greater understanding and cooperation between the regulated and regulating communities, and secure more explicit advance guidance
1. Meet with the Monroe County Conservation District to develop a list of acceptable regionally-specific BMPs, especially regarding ESCP. In addition, the committee hopes to work with the MCCD to develop a clearer understanding of preferred ESPC and NPDES reporting formats.
PROGRESS: CARE has initiated a dialogue with the MCCD, who made a presentation to the CARE General Committee on February 10, clarifying misunderstandings regarding existing regulation and offering guidance regarding the MCCD’s role as collaborator during the development process
2. Meet with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to review policies and procedures, and to suggest modifications or pilot programs that improve regulatory efficiency.
One suggestion is that DEP, PennDOT, and other regulatory bodies assign a single reviewer to coordinate permits associated with a project. The permit coordinator should have the expectation and the responsibility to insure that permits are processed in a timely fashion. Reviewers should be made aware of the expectation that projects should be accepted, reviewed and approved in less than a 12 month period from the time of initial application.
PROGRESS: In November 2010, Representatives from a Monroe CARE Accountability Team traveled to Harrisburg and met with Deputy Secretaries (and staff) representing both DEP and PennDOT. Pilot programs and process modifications were proposed and further discussion is planned.
3. C.A.R.E. will identify and convene a stakeholders group to review and discuss new regulations and provide relevant input, outlining C.A.R.E.’s position on the regulations before they are adopted.
PROGRESS: These responsibilities have been assigned to Monroe CARE’s Engineering, Transportation, and Legislative committee, each of which will advise the Action and General Committee about proposed regulations.
4. C.A.R.E will provide written public support to any change in the review process that improves efficiency, such as the MCCD’s hiring of an in-house engineer to speed the review process.
ISSUE: Timely Review and Response
When it comes to economic development, “time is money” is not a cliché. Regulatory reviews, particularly in cases where new comments are added after multiple review rounds, can lead to six-figure increases in project cost and impede timely economic development and job creation.
Goals / Solutions
- Locally, Monroe C.A.R.E.’s Engineering Committee will meet with the MCCD to develop an initial submission check list to provide better guidance to applicants of the requirements, thereby enabling more timely MCCD review.
PROGRESS: The Engineering Committee has completed initial discussions with the MCCD. As of January 30, an improved guidance document is in development.
- C.A.R.E. will work with legislators and encourage regulatory agencies to develop online application submission and permit tracking processes that can be easily accessed by both the Permittee and the public to show who in a given agency is currently reviewing/holding the permit or application.
- C.A.R.E. will work with legislators to achieve a policy change by regulatory agencies allowing licensed professionals to review applications on the agencies’ behalf. Since developers are frequently willing to pay additional application fees in exchange for expedited application review, the program could be funded by associated application fees.
- C.A.R.E. will establish a standing committee of professionals to meet with regulatory officials on a monthly basis, establishing ongoing dialogue and allowing direct communication between engineers/designers and regulatory reviewers.
Progress: CARE Representatives traveled to Harrisburg in November 2010 for initial meetings with Deputy Secretaries and Legislative Aides from PA DEP and PennDOT. The group will reconvene with these officials in early 2011.
- C.A.R.E. will create a contact network, establishing regular communication with municipal officials and regional legislators. The network will send scheduled communications to ensure that agenda items are achieved.
ONGOING: CARE Representatives are attending regularly scheduled Township and Borough meetings. In some cases, municipal officials have requested work sessions to deepen their understanding of Monroe CARE’s goals and how CARE can be an asset toward furthering economic development in their communities.
- C.A.R.E. will form Accountability Teams to meet with local, county, and state agencies earlier in the process, especially on substantial projects that have the ability to attract jobs to our area. Teams should include the PMEDC Executive Director and at least one engineer and one attorney, along with other informed C.A.R.E Committee members.
Accountability Teams can be proactive in holding regulatory agencies and officials accountable by raising awareness of Monroe County projects and staying focused on expediting the regulatory process.
PROGRESS: Accountabiilty Teams to date have been formed “on the fly” in an effort to match meeting agenda items to Monroe CARE members with relevant experience. As communication between legislators, regulatory officials, and Monroe CARE progress to regularly-scheduled events, a more set roster of Accountability Team members may be developed.
- Through its Action Committee, Accountability Teams, and Engineering Committee, C.A.R.E. will also work to assist the regulatory community by reminding design professionals that substandard design and engineering work also contribute to regulatory delays and legislative and regulatory changes is possible only when all sides acknowledge their role in an expedited review process.
ISSUE: Problems with Policy and Guidance
During the permit review process, applicants are often faced with policy and guidance issues raised by regulatory review agencies. These are subjective and individualized interpretations of written regulations.
Bearing in mind that the design professionals are working to the published regulatory standards and comments made during the pre-application meeting, the applicant faces huge expenses to change plans due to these subjective policy and guidance notes. These issues can vary widely from region to region and can place the Northeast Region at a competitive disadvantage if applied in a manner which is adversarial to applicants.
Goals and Solutions
Frequently, regulatory agency officials are directly involved in authoring new regulations. Monroe C.A.R.E. will meet with legislators to and urge them to enact legislation requiring agencies to include the regulated community in the authoring process.
This change will allow the regulated community to have notice of anticipated regulatory interpretations and to offer public comment based on that information.
It is also necessary that the review specifically address the affect of the proposed regulations on the economic landscape as well as the environmental landscape if there is truly to be balance.
PROGRESS: Monroe CARE representatives have advanced this idea during meetings with elected officials and bureaucrats. Though change is not imminent, it is fair to say that all parties recognize the dilemma associated with balancing regulation and responsible economic development.
ISSUE: Budget Cuts and Personnel Layoffs
During a recent forum sponsored by the Urban Land Institute, representatives of both DEP and PennDOT, along with one of Monroe County’s State Representatives noted the dual negative effect of expanded regulations and programs and reduced funding – and workforces – for regulatory agencies. These shortfalls mean fewer personnel to review and process applications or – perhaps worse – reviews handled by personnel without the necessary experience. These issues create delays that stall job creation and the region’s economic recovery.
Solution Monroe C.A.R.E. will meet with candidates, legislators and regulatory officials to explore ways to create greater efficiencies in the regulatory review process, such as staffing agencies at proper levels, electronic application submissions, expanded use of general permits, permit exclusions for projects with insignificant environmental impact, and the use of outside professionals to perform permit reviews.
These improvements can be funded via higher application fees. It is likely applicants will find higher fees acceptable if they are assured that the process will be more timely and efficient.
PROGRESS: Monroe CARE officials promoted this idea during meetings with the elected officials noted above. No changes appear imminent, but Monroe CARE continues to promote these ideas.
ISSUE: Proposed Rule Making
As noted in prior points, despite funding issues, leaner workforces, and already overly-long review processes, regulatory agencies continue to promulgate new rules for project development. Putting aside whether all these additional regulations are needed, the problem is that Pennsylvania’s regulatory agencies also seek to apply the new regulations retroactively to projects that may have already spent years under program review. These retroactive restrictions can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in professional fees and construction costs or cause developers to scrap the project – and the accompanying job creation – entirely.
Solution Monroe C.A.R.E. will meet with candidates, legislators and regulatory officials and seek legislation that will exempt previously submitted applications from updated regulations.
PROGRESS: During the most recent election cycle, Monroe CARE’s leadership met with candidates and elected officials to present the organization’s thoughts regarding the need for certainty in economic development and the organization’s collective belief that it is unfair to penalize projects already underway by imposing additional conditions, especially in cases where regulatory review delays are the cause of stalled projects. Though no assurances were gained, Monroe CARE’s leadership feels certain that the current administration and PA House and Senate leadership understand the need to facilitate projects already in the development pipeline.
The Rhode Island Example Monroe C.A.R.E. supports the adoption of a legislative package similar to one enacted by the State of Rhode Island in May 2010. The nine-bill package and an accompanying executive order cut government red tape and removed barriers to economic development and business growth.
Monroe C.A.R.E. will inform legislators and candidates for office about this package and seek support for a similar package in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
New Jersey also recently enacted a legislative package designed to retain existing jobs and enhance economic development.
Information on the purpose of the individual bills is included below.
• Part One: An electronic statewide master application system. A resolution declaring that regulatory structure must be reformed to make it easy to do business. It supports funding of up to $250,000 for the establishment of a web-based system to eliminate repetitive processes by using a single, electronic front-page system to obtain information and populate all necessary forms and applications to satisfy various state agencies’ regulatory requirements.
• Part Two: Expedite state licensure process. This legislation provides that any applicant for a license or occupational license identified by the Business Fast-Start Office shall be notified of the status of their application within 60 days of filing, and notified again should no determination be made after another 30 days have transpired. Any substantially completed application shall be deemed approved after 120 days if no determination is made prior to that date.
• Part Three: Fire Code reforms. This legislation provides that fire alarm, smoke detection and carbon monoxide plans would have to be approved or denied within 15 days, instead of the current 90 days. To ensure that the fire code is enforced consistently, all assistant and deputy fire marshals would be required to participate in standardized national training and certification as determined by the state fire marshal. Approval of plans and construction of some buildings could be expedited, with the approval of the State Fire Marshal, if prepared and supervised by a professional engineer or architect. All other inspections and approvals would be conducted within timeframes to be established by the State Fire Marshal, not to exceed 90 days.
• Part Four: Small business representative on the state Apprenticeship Council. This legislation requires the Director of the Department of Labor and Training to name a small business representative to the state Apprenticeship Council from among the current employer representatives.
• Part Five: Facilitate collaboration among state agencies. This legislation provides a mechanism to allow more than one state agency to work simultaneously and together in rule making, decision making, and setting of procedures and practices. The legislation is designed to save time and money by allowing multiple state agencies to hold simultaneous hearings on rule-making and decision making, as well as other public meetings.
• Part Six: Give Commonwealth firms preference in awarding of state contracts. This legislation would give Commonwealth architectural, engineering and consulting firms preference over out-of-state companies in the awarding of state contracts. While putting a preference on in-state employers and the provision of in-state jobs, the legislation still ensures quality and lowest cost remain the priority. This legislation would not apply to federally funded contracts.
• Part Seven: Concurrent review. This legislation allows state agencies with regulatory or permitting authority over a business to establish a process for simultaneous review and approval with one or more state agencies. The legislation is designed to limit the delay for businesses waiting for one step to finish before moving on to the next step when there is no causal or safety relationship between the two steps. Businesses opting for simultaneous review may not recover the fees associated with the review if the business does not win approval.
• Part Eight: Strengthen the small business presence on EDC Board. This legislation provides that the Governor shall appoint representatives of small business to 1/3 of the seats on the Commonwealth Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors. This legislation is a result of the Small Business Administration’s 2010 legislative recommendations.
• Part Nine: EDC Office of Regulatory Reform. This legislation establishes the Office of Regulatory Reform within the EDC, to review the state’s regulatory processes and permitting procedures for businesses in an effort to further improve them. Each municipality would be granted the authority to appoint a liaison responsible for coordinating with the Office of Regulatory Reform. The Office will publish an annual report on the regulatory processes of state and municipal agencies and permitting authorities for the purpose of encouraging agencies to improve procedures and reduce paperwork burdens impacting small business; making recommendations for simplification of regulatory processes, and making proposals to any agency for consideration of amendment or repeal of existing rules or procedures which may be obsolete, harmful or burdensome. The Office of Regulatory Reform would have the authority to intervene in regulatory or permitting matters before state agencies and municipal boards, commissions, agencies and subdivisions for the purpose of assuring efficient and consistent implementation of rules and regulations in order to foster the creation and retention of jobs in the state.
Monroe County’s economic future depends on reforming the regulatory environment, making permitting application, review, and approval processes faster and more cost-effective.
Monroe C.A.R.E. understands that regulatory agencies play a vital role in protecting our environment and preserving our safety. However, regulators must take seriously their role as stakeholders in the region’s economic future. They are not there to enforce a rule or interpret a guideline. Their roles exist to enhance the lives of the people who live in this community. It is their responsibility to ensure that Monroe County’s pristine environment and safe roads and streets exist in an economically-viable community.
However, regulators only make up a portion of the players. The real influence over these agencies comes from the legislative branch, which writes the laws, and the executive branch, which sets the policy-making agenda and judges the agencies’ performance.
Monroe C.A.R.E.’s ability to achieve any of its goals is contingent on its level of public support and the unity and effort of its membership. It is only with this type of broad public participation and support that we have the profile necessary to influence our elected officials and – by extension – regulatory professionals. Monroe Citizens Against Regulatory Excess will continue to expand its membership and activism and seek to become Pennsylvania’s leading voice in the push for more timely and balanced regulation.
Monroe C.A.R.E. Action Committee
Michael Baxter – Chair
Michael C. Baxter
DEP Issues Committee
Mark Sincavage – Chair
Monroe County Commissioner Theresa Merli
PennDOT Issues Committee
Joe McDonald – Chair
Legislative Issues Committee
Charles Vogt – Chair
Michael C. Baxter