State streamlines air quality permit process

DES MOINES - The state agency responsible for enforcing air quality standards has adopted new procedures to reduce the time it takes for businesses to get a permit, Gov. Tom Vilsack said Monday.
calendar icon 12 November 2003
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Using the new system, a backlog of 600 permit applications was cut in half in just three months and should be eliminated completely by January, he said.

Permit applications still undergo the same scrutiny, but the time needed for processing has been cut significantly, said Jeffrey Vonk, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

"Permit applications are routed internally so standard permits are tackled quickly, while a separate team reduces the backlog of permit applications and a third team reviews complex permits that require additional procedures and longer review times," Vonk said.

The Iowa Environmental Council said it isn't concerned about the new procedure as long as the state doesn't cut corners at the expense of air quality.

"As long as the DNR applies the same amount of scrutiny and standards to the permit process, we see this as a success," said Richard Leopold, executive director of the environmental advocacy group. "We support streamlining the process if it means a quicker turnaround while adhering to current standards."

Permits are now handed off an average of four times within the DNR. Before the new procedures, a permit changed hands about 18 times, Vilsack said.

Better information is obtained from applicants at the start of the process, reducing the need for additional information requests and delays. A DNR hot line also was established for businesses to call.

The average review now takes 12 days instead of 62 and the number of steps to process an application has been cut from 23 to seven, Vilsack said. In the last four months, more than 40 permits were granted in a week or less, he said.

Businesses, universities and groups such as the Iowa Business Council, Iowa Chamber Alliance and other organizations helped devise the process.

"As a company in Iowa, one of the big things we were looking for is the ability to get permits quicker," said Alan Arnold, a spokesman for Alliant Energy and one of the team members. "Our budgets are driven on time demands and this just fit into it real well."

The streamlined process should encourage business development in Iowa, said Mike Blouin, Iowa Department of Economic Development director.

"This is a major step in reducing the frustration level of businesses waiting for permits," Blouin said.

The DNR's Air Quality Bureau is the state's air quality regulatory authority responsible for implementing the federal Clean Air Act.

The staff issues nearly 2,000 air pollution control permits annually for new equipment or major expansions at existing facilities.

Source: Agrinews - 11th November 2003

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