On May 17, 2017, the Environmental Quality Board (“EQB”) voted to send out for public comment a proposed $7.5 million permit fee increase, to be paid by operators of public water systems. The proposed new fees will allow the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to increase the number of inspectors who ensure that safe drinking water is delivered from the state’s more than 8,500 public water systems to more than 10 million Pennsylvania residents. The new revenue from the fees will allow DEP to expand its existing drinking water staff by more than 50 percent and improve inspection rates of public water systems. The proposed package would be the first increase to permitting fees since the fees were initially implemented in 1984.
The public comment period is an early step in finalizing the proposed fee regulations. Under the state’s regulatory review process, the earliest the fees could be finalized is April 2018. DEP could start hiring staff based on those fees in January 2019. It is expected that the new fee package will be available for public comment in July.
The U.S. EPA has warned DEP that existing staffing shortages could have serious public health implications and, if continued, could result in an EPA takeover of the Commonwealth’s safe drinking water program. In its February 24, 2017 letter to EPA, DEP noted that it currently has 54 sanitarians/field inspectors, down from 84 in 2009. Today, each sanitarian in Pennsylvania is responsible for approximately 158 public water systems, more than double the national average of 67.
Stock and Leader’s Environment, Energy, and Environmental Mediation Group will continue to monitor developments in this area.