Photo courtesy of the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources.

From the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, shared May 17:

RALEIGH – The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources today announced plans to increase its efforts to help small businesses, landowners and residents to comply with environmental rules.

To focus the department’s limited resources on problem areas, the department will create the Environmental Permit and Compliance Assistance Center. This center, which will use existing agency staff, will focus on the needs of those customers who are frequently affected by environmental rules but lack the expertise and money needed to hire someone to guide them through the regulatory, permitting and compliance process.

“We think a customer-friendly, compliance assistance program can be the first line of defense to ensure that regulatory requirements are met,” DENR Secretary Dee Freeman said. “The idea came from department permitting staff and will include feedback from permit applicants and permit holders on the effectiveness and consistency of our programs.”

Housed in the Division of Environmental Assistance and Outreach, some benefits of the Environmental Permit and Compliance Assistance Center include:

  • Offering a single point of contact to guide applicants through the permitting system;
  • Providing technical assistance to obtain necessary permits and/or address compliance assistance issues;
  • Arranging pre-application meetings to outline potential permits, processes, timelines and expectations;
  • Designating technical staff to answer – in plain English – regulatory questions, explain permit and regulatory issues, and receive and ensure resolution of environmental complaints and issues; and
  • Providing technical assistance on compliance strategies, including those that reduce waste and enable companies to save money.

“This enhanced environmental assistance program builds on lessons that we have learned through the express permitting program and other customer service efforts,” said Edythe McKinney, director of the Division of Environmental Assistance and Outreach. “We know that early planning, clear communications of requirements and timely, helpful follow-up to address deficiencies assists the applicant, but also gets better environmental results.”

The first phase of this program will include involving the regulated community, local governments, environmental advocacy groups and department staff in a number of regional listening sessions to define what types of assistance are needed. Ideas generated through these sessions – to be scheduled for late summer – will help identify immediate and longer term cost- effective regulatory assistance measures. Future phases of the enhanced environmental assistance program will address regulatory deadlines, customer feedback and environmental and resource priorities.

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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