In 1997, the Office of Pollution Control (OPC) within the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) began reengineering the process of permitting in the state. OPC’s ultimate goal was to change the system from a traditional, single-media permitting process to a new “one-stop” approach. Originally, environmental permits were processed and issued by the four separate MDEQ divisions: Air, Surface Water, Groundwater, and Hazardous Waste. As a result, a regulated facility could have been required to obtain multiple permits (from the four different divisions) for the same site, increasing regulatory burden and hindering efficient multi-media management.
The reengineered permitting plan includes a variety of innovations to improve the efficiency and quality of environmental protection. First, the new plan called for the creation of an Environmental Permits Division to undertake all permitting functions regardless of media. The media divisions now act as advisors, aiding the Environmental Permits Division by making recommendations regarding permit applications for their respective departments. Second, the new system calls for a single point of contact – a Permit Manager – to be responsible for all the permits required for a given facility. The Permit Manager will either act alone or lead a team of permit writers depending upon the complexity of the permits required for a given facility.
Another priority of the system is to ensure more effective communication with applicants before permit submissions are made. It is more time and cost effective to supply the applicant with guidance on permitting alternatives (such as the option of reduced permitting requirements in exchange for pollution prevention commitments) before the permit is under review. After all necessary pre-application communication, the Permit Manager and the applicant sign a non-enforceable agreement known as the Coleman Pact specifying the applicant’s obligations and MDEQ’s commitments regarding timeliness.
Additionally, a public notice is issued at the same time that the permit application is submitted to OPC allowing the public to have input during the application review period rather than after the permit has already been finalized. To further increase efficiency, OPC is in the process of developing information management systems to allow online permit submissions over the Internet.
Mississippi’s new permitting approach has advantages for both the regulated community and the state. The plan should help staff develop and maintain a high level of expertise in pollution prevention options and regulatory incentives. In addition, the program will encourage staff to gain knowledge in several environmental media, allowing for more flexible management capable of dealing with rapidly changing needs and priorities within the department. Moreover, evidence from other permit-streamlining initiatives, such as the Massachusetts Environmental Results Program produce strong environmental benefits. Through that program there was a 43% reduction in fugitive emissions of the carcinogen PERC (perchloroethylene) and a 99% reduction of discharges of silver from photo processors.