Responding to requirements in a new state law, the state Environmental Protection Division will charge those seeking air quality permits a fee ranging from $1,000 to $40,000, depending on the complexity of the project. In return, regulators will conduct a quicker review of those requests.
While the law adopted in 2012 applies to all EPD branches, the air quality wing made the earliest moves to implement it. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce lobbied for the bill, arguing that it was taking too long for businesses to get decisions critical to their operations.
“We typically want to make sure we cover new industry in Georgia first,” said Eric Cornwell, a program manager in the air branch. “We want to make sure that people and industries are allowed to proceed with the growth they need to do. Georgia EPD doesn’t want to be an obstacle to that growth, obviously assuming they are complying on all clean air statutes.”
Cornwell said the department will allocate its staff to make sure the waiting times do not increase for people who do not pay the special fee. He also said it remains unclear how many people will pay to use the expedited service. He noted the time it takes to process an application depends on the quality of information provided by the person or company seeking it.
“We expect to get something that’s not just a slipshod, piecemeal application,” he said.
Critics of the legislation called it “pay-to-play” and worried about a tangle of conflicts if EPD officials allowed outside consultants to review permits. Under the announced plan, EPD staff will conduct all the reviews.
“GreenLaw is encouraged that our concerns about hiring outside consultants have been addressed, and that EPD’s expedited permitting process will be done in-house.
This resolves our main objection about potential conflicts of interest,” said Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, executive director of GreenLaw, an environmental advocacy group. Benfield voted against the legislation while she was a member of the General Assembly.
“However, only time will tell if the shortened time period will allow for a complete and thorough review of permit applications,” she said.