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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 01:03 am

Permit process slows down manufacturers

Chamber of Commerce urges state to expedite EPA permits for faster job growth

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After a two-year permit process, U.S. Steel Corp. finalized a $750 million project in Granite City, Ill., last October. In Alabama, a similar project’s permit only took six months to clear.

Katy Lawrence of U.S. Steel says an extended permit process can cost companies like hers a great deal of time and money. For manufacturers who have to order equipment up to 48 months in advance, waiting on a permit can mean four years before actually starting to hire workers.

“The process itself is very costly, cumbersome and takes entirely way too long,” Lawrence says.

A lengthy permit process is slowing down job growth and discouraging manufacturers from doing business in Illinois, the state’s Chamber of Commerce says.

Todd Maisch, the Chamber’s vice president of governmental affairs, called for an expedited permit process (particularly for permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency) at a recent meeting of the Illinois House’s Job Creation Task Force.

The current permit process requires companies to wait an average of 406 days for permits like the one required by the Clean Air Act, Maisch says. Manufacturers can wait up to two years for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue permits based on air, water and emissions.

“Rather than simply protecting the environment, it’s serving as a chokehold so investment doesn’t get met,” Maisch says. “We think that’s wrong. It’s something that ought to be protecting the standards while still facilitating and being a conduit for investment and job creation.”

Maggie Carson, a spokesperson for the Illinois EPA, says her organization hasn’t had any official discussions with the Chamber about an expedited permit process, but they are open to a conversation.

“We would like to look into making the process faster, but still perform our regulatory duties,” Carson says.

Maisch gave an example of a project that would create a pipeline from Livingston County to Patoka. The project, he says, would create up to 1,000 jobs, but it’s already been delayed two years because of permits.

The permit process can take a long time, Carson says, because each regulatory area – land, air and water – has different standards that must be met before either construction or operation of a facility. Manufacturers must conduct studies on potential pollution or environmental damage, and these take months or even years to complete.

The expedited process would mean manufacturers must agree to comply with EPA standards for issues like emissions and water use, but they would be allowed to move forward with their plans before proving that they have met those requirements.
“If you want to open a concrete plant and you are willing to meet conditions a, b, c and d in terms of emissions and water discharge, and you’re willing to meet these qualities, you can take that permit and go along,” Maisch explains.
Carson says EPA has heard complaints about the length of the permit process in the past, but that it’s a necessary step to make sure manufacturers are assessing or reducing their environmental impact.

Both Lawrence and Maisch say they’re not trying to bypass EPA requirements, they’d just like to speed up the process as a way of increasing jobs and industry.

Task Force Chairman Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) says he’s aware of the permit situation, but he wants the Chamber to give more specific examples and to prove that the expedited process wouldn’t be environmentally harmful.

“We’d like to see exactly what’s going on out there,” Lang says.

It’s important to invest in expedited permitting, Maisch says, because jobs are the state’s number one priority right now.

“It may be a little bit of a dry subject, but if you’ve ever talked to someone making investment decisions based on this, it gets real tangible and real important very quickly,” he says.

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.
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