To the extent possible, DEP staff are teleworking. This includes reviewing permits, responding to complaints and environmental emergencies, as well as other work. As this is an evolving situation, DEP advises the regulated community that it may modify or update guidelines over time.
DEP is currently prioritizing field inspections that are critical to public health and safety. DEP staff are responding to complaints related to issues critical to public health and safety. DEP will continue to respond in the field to environmental emergencies that present an immediate threat to public health and safety.
Requesting Suspension of Regulation or Permit Condition
DEP has established a procedure to request a temporary suspension of State regulatory requirements and/or permit conditions. The applicant should fill out this form and submit it to RA-EPCOVID19SuspReq@pa.gov. The applicant is asked to provide information such as how the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted the applicant’s ability to comply and/or how the regulatory requirement has prevented needed action to respond to the pandemic emergency, impacts of the virus on other aspects of the applicant’s operations, alternatives considered and expected duration of the requested suspension. The applicant also must assess and explain potential impacts to the environment as a result of any suspension. It is expected that any suspension will be granted on narrow terms.
Applicants seeking suspension of a Federal requirement, under only Federal authority, are directed to contact US EPA Region III. To the extent the request relates to a federal program delegated to Pennsylvania, DEP will review requests submitted using the above form.
Entities operating under a DEP permit that have ceased or suspended operations or construction as a result of the Governor’s March 19, 2020 Order to close all non-life-sustaining businesses should comply with any applicable permit terms and conditions regarding cessation or temporary stoppage of work. This includes, but is not limited to, under Chapter 102 earth disturbance permits (more guidance on this below) and Chapter 105 encroachment permits. Permittees or operators with questions about a specific permit or operating conditions should contact the entities identified on their permit or cover letter.
DEP is suspending the timeframes for providing permit decisions established in the Policy for Implementing the Department of Environmental Protection Permit Review Process and Permit Decision Guarantee. While DEP staff will continue to process received permit applications, decisions are likely to be delayed, including for applications processed by County Conservation Districts. DEP notes that it will provide emergency authorizations for projects that are critical to public health and safety.
Chapter 102 Permit Guidance
For Life-Sustaining Businesses:
Permittees and operators who are considered “life sustaining businesses” as set forth in Governor Wolf’s March 19, 2020 Order may continue to conduct permitted earth disturbance activities to the extent that those earth disturbance activities are in support of the operation of the life sustaining business. If earth disturbance activities are conducted, the permittee must remain in compliance with all terms and conditions of any applicable permit.
For Non-Life Sustaining Businesses:
Permittees and operators who are not considered “life sustaining businesses” as set forth in the Governor’s Order must cease earth disturbance activities. Permittees ceasing earth disturbance activities must immediately implement temporary or permanent stabilization practices in accordance with approved permit plans and conditions and the stabilization standards outlined in the Erosion and Sediment Control Program Manual.
Given the Governor’s directive to implement social distancing, permittees may, upon temporary or permanent stabilization, cease performing weekly routine inspections as otherwise required by their permit. Permittees must continue to conduct other inspections required by their permit, including Post-Storm Event Inspections and Corrective Action Inspections as set forth in their permit.
Required site inspections of permitted activities by permittees are considered critical operational functions and will not be considered to be out of compliance with the Governor’s Order. Permittees and operators are reminded to limit on-site personnel, and in all cases follow social distancing and COVID-19 mitigation guidance provided by the PA Department of Health and CDC.
Permittees must continue to comply with all other permit terms and conditions, and must take immediate action to restore, repair, or replace any BMP or to provide an alternative method of treatment upon reduction, loss, or failure of any BMP.
Storage Tank Guidance
DEP advises that inspection, upgrade, repair and testing activities that are performed by DEP-certified tank handling companies may continue. Third-party inspection activities required by storage tank regulations to identify storage tank system and component failures may also continue.
DEP is allowing the installation of storage tank systems at life-sustaining businesses by DEP-certified tank handling companies to continue. Removal of storage tank systems should be limited in scope where removal is necessary for subsequent tank installation or to protect human health and the environment. Any in-person work at a business site is only to be performed on the most limited basis possible to deliver the services or goods.
All storage tank and piping release detection, monitoring, and cathodic protection equipment should remain on, properly functioning, and continue to be monitored. In addition, leak detection alarms and suspected releases should be responded to by owners and operators appropriately.
Right to Know Law
Any requests for public records submitted to DEP on or after March 16, 2020 will be deemed to have been received by the DEP’s open-records officer on the first day of the reopening of the Rachel Carson State Office Building, which is now closed.
Please note, on April 5, 2020, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health issued an Order mandating enhanced cleaning and disinfecting requirements for owners of large buildings. The Cleaning Order applies to owners of buildings of at least 50,000 square feet used for commercial, industrial or other enterprises, including but not limited to facilities for warehouses, manufacturing, commercial offices, airports, grocery stores, universities, colleges, government, hotels, and residential buildings with at least 50 units.
The Coronavirus Task Force at Klehr Harrison stands ready to assist you in your business and legal needs. We will continue to provide additional information and guidance as the COVID-19 situation develops.
Author Douglas F. Schleicher is the chair of the environmental practice group at Klehr Harrison.