In what appears to be a significant win for AGC and a stride to increased government efficiency Gov. Chris Gregoire signed an executive order last week last week to transform the way multiple state agencies handle environmental permit reviews. The executive order promotes AGC’s position that agencies should review permits simultaneously and in a coordinated manner rather than the current practice of agencies conducting reviews separately and one-after-the-other.
AGC Legislative Council Van Collins notes that the executive order does not change environmental protection laws but it fosters a faster more efficient more predictable and therefore cheaper permitting process.
“Although we don’t know exactly what this new system will look like as it hasn’t been put in practice yet this is certainly a step in the right direction and we applaud the Governor for seeking this better approach” said Collins. “The concept of a concurrent rather than sequential permitting process is something WSDOT successfully piloted eight years ago at the urging of AGC and then-AGC lobbyist Willy O’Neil. The Governor’s executive order appears to expand that good idea to all public and private projects that require State review.”
In her executive order issued Dec. 2 Gov. Gregoire acknowledged that the environmental review system has developed into “a complex multi-agency system with over-lapping jurisdictions duplicative activities and unclear processes.” Click here to see the full executive order.
Her executive order formally creates the Natural Resources Cabinet consisting of the state natural resources agency directors and charges it with adopting specific accountability actions for improving service delivery such as:
- Create “One Front Door” for the 98 separate environmental permits licenses and approvals under environmental protection statutes; and for easier public access to the 80 environmental grant and loan programs.
- Establish a single set of regional boundaries for natural resources agencies with local field operations eventually co-locating more agency offices and making it easier for the public to find the local services they need.
- Coordinate scientific field monitoring and data protocols so a scientist doing field work for one agency can simultaneously collect data for another agency.
- Expand the use of a single multi-agency permit team to cover all agencies’ environmental permits for major projects in a geographic area.
- With a willing local government partner test the feasibility of creating a single permit for state and local environmental regulations within the local jurisdiction.
In addition to the changes made through the executive order the Governor will also seek legislative changes in 2010. Capping a six-month natural resources reform initiative by agency directors and policy and budget experts the Governor announced she will seek legislation to:
- Reduce the number of growth management hearings boards from three to one and reduce the number of environmental appeals boards from five to two while maintaining citizens’ rights to appeal decisions.
- Standardize appeal procedures and timelines for quasi-judicial environmental and land use laws eliminating the confusion that exists for businesses and citizens wanting to challenge a government environmental or land use decision.
- Eliminate agency review processes that duplicate appeals to environmental hearings boards.
“With the budget reductions that we’ve had to make and will continue to make in response to revenue shortfalls it’s imperative for government to work smarter and more efficiently than ever” Gregoire said. “Our natural resource management reforms will make the most of our investments and provide maximum benefits to the public and protection for the environment.”