Governor Deval L. Patrick came out with two plans today for speeding up environmental regulatory approvals for business in Massachusetts.
After taking a pounding for the last week from business leaders over his plans to raise corporate taxes by closing what Patrick calls loopholes, the governor shifted to a new theme -- simplifying and accelerating government permitting processes -- that is far more welcomed by businesses.
Patrick said one change will require the Department of Environmental Protection to issue 90 percent of business permits within 180 days of when developers or businesses first apply, up from about 75 to 80 percent now.
The governor is also convening an environmental lawyers' task force to report by May 1 on ways to speed up cases at the DEP's Division of Administrative Law Appeals, where cases involving enforcement of state wetland laws can be appealed by environmentalists or by proponents of construction projects that have been denied.
Patrick said a leading example of the kind of project he wants to rescue from regulatory delays is the proposed 20-tower Hoosac Wind electric generating project in Florida and Monroe, which has been tied up for two years at the division in wetlands appeals.
"It's being held up by an inefficient appeals process, and we have got to do better than that,'' Patrick said. He added that he sees no contradiction between effective environmental protection and "regulation at the speed of business.''
"It will translate into tens of millions of dollars in savings, and more importantly, I think it will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment'' in job-creating projects in Massachusetts, Patrick said.
Some environmentalists who attended the event at Genzyme Corp. said they agree that environmentally beneficial projects are sometimes getting bogged down in regulatory red tape, but they're anxious about going too far in rolling back environmental review.
Margaret Van Deusen, general counsel and deputy director of the Charles River Watershed Association, a Waltham environmental group, said she was somewhat alarmed to hear Patrick in his remarks refer to the pro-business regulatory climate of North Carolina and Texas, states she said are marked by massive sprawl development.
"Do we want to look like North Carolina or Texas?'' Van Deusen said in an interview. "The question we need to address is how do you wind up with a better environment and better projects and at the same time streamline the process. I hope that environmentalists are really able to give some input.''
(By Peter J. Howe, Globe staff)