Spotlight on the DEP

Posted Feb. 03, 2011, at 11:39 p.m.

One agency — the Department of Environmental Protection — has gotten the most mentions at the red tape and regulatory reform hearings being held across the state. The DEP was also the target of many of the changes called for by the governor in the lengthy list of environmental policy changes he’s advocating for.

Gov. Paul LePage is right that a change in attitude may be needed in some agencies. However, his scattershot approach to easing environmental regulations, put forward in a list of 63 priority proposals for the Regulatory Fairness and Reform Committee, is counterproductive.

Maine businesses aren’t clamoring to allow BPA in plastics, to rescind rules on “medical sharps” or to end electronics recycling programs, which the governor included on his list. Instead, they want the Department of Environmental Protection — the most frequent target of their ire — to be easier to work with. They want to know what the standards are and how to meet them. They want permits to be issued quickly.

If the DEP isn’t doing this, the administration would be wise to find out why not and fix it.

Earlier this week, the Legislature’s Committee on Regulatory and Fairness Reform held a hearing in Machias. It heard stories of how state agencies were heavy-handed and their directives confusing and, often, contradictory. But, the committee also heard that Washington County residents don’t want environmental protections eased.

More to the point, there was a specific recommendation to review all DEP rules and eliminate redundancy. Someone else said the department should have more staff.

Similar stories have been heard at the “red tape audit” hearings that are being held across the state by the governor’s office.

Despite some very specific complaints — and suggestions on how to fix them — the governor’s office has compiled a list of regulatory reform proposals that reads more like an out-of-state industry wish list.

It should set that list aside and listen to what Maine business owners and residents are saying at the meetings set up to collect such input. The governor’s office can begin by reviewing the DEP to see what rules and practices are truly onerous. If they can be changed without weakening environmental protections, then they should be.

Such a tightly focused effort will address the real concerns of Maine businesses, something the governor has said is a priority.

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