by James DeChene
Before we get to what happened in Dover this week, a reminder that our networking event at the Delaware National Guard Joint Force Headquarters is a week away. This is your chance to:
And now onto Dover. This week the JFC continued to hold meetings hearing budget requests from state agencies. I attended the Departments of Insurance, Labor, and Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) hearings, and each secretary gave a good overview of what their offices are doing and plans for next year. A few items of note included the work the State Chamber, and others like ABC, DCA, Labor and legislators, have done to address issues related to the Workplace Fraud Act and how work is performed on construction sites. That work continues, and I’m thankful that we’re reaching consensus on some big issues that will have a positive impact on the industry and its workers.
Of note from DNREC, Secretary Garvin made the announcement of a website launch in the coming month that will track permit applications made to the department. As you know, the State Chamber has been working with agencies like DELDOT and DNREC on streamlining their permitting processes to help development projects become 'shovel ready' faster. This tracking mechanism, apparently similar to what DELDOT has created, will show not only delays, or speed, from the DNREC side but also track if applications are missing data, causing a slowdown from the business side. More to come once the website goes live.
Hope to see you next week at the Guard event.
by James DeChene
This week, the last before the General Assembly returns post-Joint Finance Committee break, saw two meetings of interest to the Chamber. The first, was the Joint Sunset Committee hearing on Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act (HSCA) funding, which is used, in part, to incentivize the clean-up of brownfield sites. The Chamber has been supportive of this program due to its usefulness in helping to remediate and bring back into use dirty sites across Delaware, as well as the proven return on investment the program provides. According the University of Delaware, for every dollar spent in HSCA, there are over $17 dollars brought back in economic development. Funded by a tax on gasoline wholesalers, the program funding is generally spent as soon as appropriated in July. As gas prices remain down, there is a direct negative impact on the amount of funding the program receives. There is talk of working to create a mechanism that would include a floor and a ceiling for the tax rate, depending on the price of gas, in order to provide sustainable funding for HSCA. More to come on that.
Also this week, the taskforce created to explore the legalization of marijuana in Delaware met, and there was some confusion during the meeting on how a vote for the release of the taskforce report would take place, and what, in fact, the vote would mean. Due to that confusion, the vote to release failed. There is another meeting next week, March 7, where there may be another vote held, but that remains to be seen.
Next week, the General Assembly returns. There may be a Senate vote on SB10, the minimum wage bill. As of now, the latest amended version calls for a $.50 raise in October 2018, with another $.50 raise to take place in October 2019. Right now, the minimum wage stands at $8.25. The bill is expected to pass the Senate, and there will be the opportunity for businesses to be heard when it reaches committee in the House. More to come on that, too.
by James DeChene
This week, the Chamber’s Environmental Committee hosted Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary David Small who provided an update on the various initiatives the agency is engaged in. Included in the conversation was the status of the State Supreme Court review of how storm water regulations were promulgated, measures the agency is taking to replenish sand lost as a result of winter storm Jonas and the subsequent damage to the inland bays caused by that storm, and potential increases in usage fees for the maintenance of wildlife areas.
Also discussed were the funding issues surrounding Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act (HSCA) sites and the recent University of Delaware study on HSCA return on investment, which is estimated to be a $16 return for every $1 spent statewide, and at $19 for money spent in New Castle County. The HSCA fund has seen reduced funding in recent years as gas prices have dropped resulting in a decrease in the amount of dedicated taxes paid by petroleum refineries.
The Secretary also heard from Chamber members on the need to modernize the Coastal Zone Act. This education effort will explain the economic development opportunities modernization will provide. For more information on the event, or to learn more about the Chamber’s Environmental Committee, contact James DeChene at email@example.com.
by James DeChene
Chamber Committee meetings have already started in 2016. With the General Assembly set to convene on January 12th, the Chamber’s policy committees are poised for action. Topics include the Healthcare Committee working to educate employers about the increase in narcotics/heroin addiction in Delaware, reducing the stigma of addiction, what signs to look for in employees and various treatment options available. Look for a spring event panel discussion to learn more. The Tax Committee will be looking at ways in which to help make Delaware more attractive for businesses to relocate to and expand in Delaware, and will be reviewing tax related legislation and regulations as they are drafted to provide feedback. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be looking at the drafted Water Usage Fee bill that was created as the result of a Clean Water Taskforce. Chamber members have been participants on that taskforce and have provided industry knowledge to help craft the bill. The Employer Advocacy and Education Committee is expected to meet soon to discuss various labor legislation including an expected bill to increase the minimum wage in Delaware to $15 by 2023. The Environmental Committee will be having their spring event with a speaker TBD, and with potential changes to the Coastal Zone Act this year, they will undoubtedly have feedback to offer as well.
For more information on how to participate on a committee, contact James DeChene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Emily Riley
Permits and paperwork is what most think of at the mention of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. While those formalities are surely part of the DNREC outfit, newly appointed department secretary David Small wants you to know there’s far more education, policy and entrepreneurial initiatives at work for the First State. From the dynamic growth of Wilmington’s Riverfront destination to managing the state’s air and water quality, the corps of scientists and policy initiators at DNREC are hard at work keeping our state beautiful and environmentally (and economically) viable.
Secretary David Small had a few thoughts to share in regards to current work at DNREC:
What positions have you previously held with DNREC?
I served as acting secretary early in the Markell administration prior to arrival of former Secretary [Collin] O’Mara. For the past 15 years I served as deputy secretary, and prior to that I served as the executive assistant. I joined the agency in 1987 and was chief of the office of information and education, but prior to that, I was a journalist and editor in print media. I’m maybe a bit of an unlikely candidate to be secretary, but the nice thing about being chief of that office is that I had access to every nook and cranny and program and issue the department was dealing with, which has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about the agency.
How will your position as secretary expand on the work you’ve already done with DNREC?
I think having a working baseline knowledge of the agency has been an incredible asset to me – to know not only the issues but the people inside the agency and the challenges on the outside. I’ve come to know many of the regulated entities that we serve as customers and constituents, which has been very helpful to me because it’s given me insights that maybe other folks coming in from the outside haven’t had, so that’s definitely been one advantage.
What goals would you like to see accomplished during your tenure?
Water quality has been a huge priority for the department. Cleaning up the state’s water has been an ongoing effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight and it’s not something that we’re going to accomplish by regulation only. We live in an age where everyone’s attached to a handheld device, and we’re used to instant gratification – the environment doesn’t work that way, and we’ve got a long road ahead of us. Energy efficiency is another area where I think we’ve made good strides but there are still gains to me made there. The kilowatts and megawatts we don’t use are the best ones and the cheapest ones, so making those investments save consumers money and also put people to work.
The revamp of Wilmington’s Riverfront destination is certainly one of DNREC’s most visible achievements. Are there similar plans for other areas in the state?
The Riverfront development plan is our largest and most successful example of a Brownfield project. It was an area that had been previously used for heavily industrialized purposes that left a legacy of contamination. When former Gov. [Russell] Peterson and former University of Delaware Pres. [E. Arthur] Trabant shared their vision for the area, I’m not sure anybody could have imagined creating the economic engine in New Castle County that stands there today. I don’t know that we’ll ever rise to that scale again, but we strive for that “twofer” – repurposing and redeveloping an existing site and eliminating contamination in that area. Using this model, we have our sights set on places like Fort DuPont in Delaware City and Auburn Heights Preserve in Yorklyn, as well as a the Evraz Claymont Steel site, which presents an exciting and dynamic opportunity for commercial investment right along the Delaware River.
What will DNREC do to keep pace with advances in environmental engineering and technology?
Not surprisingly, and like many organizations, we’re aging. Fifty percent of our workforce is eligible for retirement, so our goal is to get the right people with the right skills to manage our agency into the future. We want to make sure that for our younger staff, they’re not only technically competent, but that we’re giving them the right skill sets to be effective managers for policy planning, human resource management and other areas. If we make these investments in our workforce, we can continue to make great strides over the coming years.
Beyond the paperwork and park fees, what is something Delawareans might not know about DNREC?
I would say there’s a lack of understanding or appreciation for all the responsibilities that the agency has. People know DNREC through a singular experience – getting a permit for an activity, buying their state park passes or gaining a surf permit to the drive-on beaches, but there’s really so much more that we do. We’re constantly trying to improve the air quality, protect public health through the quality of the drinking water, clean up contaminated sites, manage storm water and other continual goals. And it’s difficult to isolate these projects too. When you think about that environment and natural resources, you’re tugging on a thread that’s connected to so many other issues. It’s hard to manage them within individual programs, so what we try to do is connect the dots across our body of policies, which gives us a great advantage in trying to achieve those goals.
(This article was previously published in the 2015 July/August issue of Delaware Business magazine).
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.