Statement of Purpose

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This document outlines Commissioner Kimmell's Draft Action Plan for Regulatory Reform at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). This effort is first and foremost an attempt to strategically cope with the budget cuts MassDEP has suffered in recent years. Since 2002, MassDEP's budget has been significantly reduced, and staffing has been cut commensurately, from 1200 full time equivalents to approximately 840 today. Yet during that same period MassDEP's responsibilities have only increased through efforts to address emerging environmental contaminants of concern and passage of new legislation such as the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Massachusetts Mercury Management Act. As a result, the agency's resources are now out of alignment with its responsibilities. This deficit jeopardizes MassDEP's ability to perform its vital functions, and to maintain its position as a national leader in environmental protection.

In addition, and as a result of the budget constraints faced by state and local agencies across the Commonwealth, the Patrick-Murray Administration and the Massachusetts Legislature have made clear that our current budget constraints require us to think and act differently and that regulatory reform is a high priority in the Commonwealth.  The current staffing levels at MassDEP are inadequate to assure municipalities and the public that we will maintain the technical outreach and assistance they currently rely on, or to maintain compliance and enforcement levels that are sufficient to protect the environment and impose a level playing field for Massachusetts businesses. MassDEP has already fallen behind on certain important federal commitments for surface water and air quality activities due to inadequate staffing resources. Regulatory reform is not only necessary to address these serious existing and potential future shortfalls, but it will also help ensure that MassDEP is well-positioned to facilitate Massachusetts' economic recovery by meeting the Governor's commitment to permitting at the speed of business as permit volumes rebound from recessionary lows.

In recognition of these realities, in April of this year Commissioner Kimmell asked MassDEP to undertake a comprehensive effort to identify and implement reforms to existing regulations, policies and practices that will allow the agency to reduce staff time spent on these activities while maintaining its high standards for environmental protection. Over the past six months, MassDEP has canvassed its own staff and worked closely with outside stakeholders to develop this plan for initiating targeted reforms that will improve our operations while maintaining, and in some cases improving, environmental outcomes. Throughout the process MassDEP adhered to several guiding principles established by the Commissioner:

  • Proposed reforms will not weaken or undermine environmental protection standards. Changes that reduce direct oversight will be coupled with robust compliance and enforcement mechanisms.
  • Proposed regulatory or permitting changes are aimed primarily at helping MassDEP manage its responsibilities within our current staffing levels, and every proposed reform measure will result in some time savings for the agency.
  • All identified reforms can be implemented directly by MassDEP, without the need for legislative changes.
  • None of the proposed reforms will transfer new responsibilities to municipalities, as our cities and towns are also strained by budget decreases.
  • None of the proposed reforms will alter our obligations under our federal funding agreements with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and therefore proposed reforms are largely concentrated on "state-only" programs such as wetlands, waterways, wastewater, and solid waste.

In addition, MassDEP would like to highlight several other aspects of the reforms that have been selected:  

  • None of the proposed reforms are intended to reduce public process, and no reforms to appeals processes have been proposed. MassDEP is committed to maintaining opportunities for public involvement and to upholding established rights to citizen appeals. In addition, MassDEP has already made significant success in reducing timelines for adjudicatory appeals, including wetlands appeals in particular, as part of the agency's prior streamlining efforts.
  • Many of the proposed reforms incentivize better environmental outcomes by reducing permitting procedures for environmentally beneficial projects or for avoiding areas with sensitive environmental resources.
  • Many of the proposed reforms seek to eliminate duplication in current permitting reviews. Some of the proposed ideas eliminate duplication within MassDEP's own programs, and several others reduce duplication with municipal approvals.
  • Several of the selected reforms seek to reduce direct staff oversight of activities that are routine and that do not pose the most significant environmental protection concerns. This will allow MassDEP staff to instead focus on those activities that deserve the most scrutiny. As noted above, and throughout this action plan, changes to reduce direct oversight (e.g., moving from an individual to a general permit process) will be coupled with robust oversight and enforcement measures.

Finding efficiencies in the way we operate is not a novel idea, and many reforms have already been made at MassDEP. This initiative was expressly intended to expand upon the successful efforts launched by MassDEP in 2007 to streamline certain permitting and appeals processes and ensure that MassDEP's permits are issued within six months as directed by Governor Patrick. Through that effort, MassDEP has already streamlined significant aspects of the wetlands appeals process, certain air permit approvals, and groundwater discharge permitting. Consequently, this plan does not contain any quick-fix solutions, nor will it solve MassDEP's long-term budget needs in and of itself. Nonetheless, MassDEP believes this is the broadest-based effort at comprehensive regulatory reform in the agency's recent history. This plan presents a package of proposed reforms that MassDEP believes are individually appropriate, and that will collectively allow us to shift resources to higher priority activities that we are currently falling behind on.