Environmental Vigilance Means Economic Certainty in New Hampshire
By Thomas Burack, DES Commissioner
As we start a new year, 2013, the Department of Environmental Services moves on from celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2012, to starting work on another chapter to ensure that New Hampshire’s citizens and visitors will have clean air to breathe, healthy water to drink and clean lands on which to live and play and grow our food. We are also poised to begin work with a new governor and a new legislature. Under Governor Lynch’s unprecedented eight years in office, we feel that we achieved his goal of leaving a better environment to future generations than was left to us. Fundamentally, this is the mission of DES, and there can be no doubt that over the past eight years we have done exactly that - our environment in so many ways is better today than it was eight years ago.
The scope of our responsibilities, however, go far beyond air, water and waste management to include, for example, managing the state’s dams, actively protecting public safety, before during and after natural and man-made disasters, ensuring safe conditions for harvesting shellfish, cleaning up man-made contamination in the state’s groundwater, assisting communities in covering the cost of constructing and upgrading drinking water and wastewater systems, and working with a wide range of partners to address the growing and serious challenges posed by a changing climate.
To continue to serve the people of New Hampshire in these ways, the state will need to invest more in the DES Dam Maintenance Fund, which has seen its revenue reduced by 50% to 70% annually and has been operating at a deficit. This investment will maintain public safety and the economic value of our lakes for the future. Additionally, more resources are needed for state aid grants to assist our municipalities that are updating their water supplies, wastewater plants and completing landfill closures. There is currently a backlog of completed projects for which the state has not been able to provide support under the state aid grant program that includes some 100 wastewater projects, 20 water supply projects and seven landfill closures across 48 communities.
Each and every program that DES administers has very real and direct economic benefits to the people of New Hampshire, for a healthy environment is arguably a central element of what defines and sustains the people of New Hampshire and their livelihoods. New Hampshire’s employers recognize that clean air, water and land are key factors that help to attract and retain desirable employees, and that a well-managed natural resource base provides the assurance that they will have abundant natural resources, including water and forest products, to support their businesses over the long-term. And our tourism trade is absolutely dependent upon there being plentiful, clean water in our lakes, ponds and rivers, healthy air to breathe, and beautiful, scenic vistas for all to enjoy.
One of the primary ways that DES assures a healthy environment is through its permitting processes. Understanding that timeliness and predictability are critical to any permitting program, we at DES have focused considerable efforts and attention to make sure that our permitting processes are user friendly, timely and as efficient as possible. We have substantially reduced application review times in many of our programs, and we work closely with businesses and non-profits seeking to build or expand facilities in New Hampshire to make the permitting process as seamless and understandable as possible so that they can create new jobs here in the Granite State. In 2013, DES intends to continue to work with the NH Legislature to enact Integrated Development Project Permitting to further improve our customer service.
DES has made great strides in enhancing New Hampshire’s quality of life, and we look forward to continuing these efforts in partnership with our new legislature and governor because there is still much more to be done. In truth, our work will never be done, for constant vigilance and efforts are necessary to ensure that our air, waters and lands stay clean and actually get cleaner for all of our residents and for all the ways that a healthy environment contributes to a strong economy here in New Hampshire.
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