As part of its commitment to customer service, the Department of Environmental Protection has launched an Office of Dispute Resolution to help find common ground between the Department and the regulated community to prevent differences from becoming full-blown legal battles.
“The Office of Dispute Resolution will play a key role in achieving our goal of breaking down the barriers that have often existed between the DEP and businesses, individuals and local governments,” Commissioner Bob Martin said. “This office will head off potentially costly and lengthy litigation that may not have been needed had both sides simply met first to work out their differences. In finding common ground, however, we will not compromise protection of the environment.”
DEP decisions regarding permits or enforcement actions often trigger appeals, usually in the form of a request for a hearing by the Office of Administrative Law. The time between filing of an appeal and the case being heard in court is often frustratingly slow, and may hinder good projects as well as implementation of actions to protect the environment.
“This process often breeds contention,” said Commissioner Martin. “We need to change this mindset and look for solutions right out of the gate.”
Dispute resolution is a common practice used in both the private and public sectors to mediate solutions to potentially difficult disputes. While the DEP’s new Office of Dispute Resolution will not be able to mediate every type of case, it will be able to help in many areas, including water and land use permit and compliance issues, penalty assessments and alleged failures to comply with permit conditions.
The office cannot mediate challenges to DEP rules, regulations or policies, nor can it mediate disputes between private parties.
The office is headed by Tina Layre, a 24-year DEP veteran who has worked extensively on site remediation settlement agreements, cost-recovery cases, enforcement issues and cases involving bankruptcies. She will serve as an impartial mediator between the regulated community and the relevant DEP program.