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Lean in Air Permitting
Streamlining and improving air permitting processes is a high priority for many environmental agencies. Permitting authorities have carefully sought to address business concerns over permit timeframes and predictability, while providing equal or greater environmental protection and ensuring permit quality. The Lean in Air Permitting Guide focuses on an exciting approach which has been successful at improving key dimensions of the air permitting process. Since 2003 public environmental agencies have dramatically improved agency permitting and administrative processes using Lean and Six Sigma process improvement methods. Within a few months of implementation, agencies have achieved impressive results, including:
- Significant decreases in air permit development timeframes
- Decreases to or elimination of permit backlogs
- Improved completeness and quality of air permit applications
- Improved relationships with other regulators, the regulated community, and the public
- Elimination of non-value added activities, allowing permit engineers to devote more value-added time on permit development
- Improved coordination and consistency in permitting approaches within a permitting authority
This was accomplished while ensuring equal or greater environmental protection and increasing value-added activities and time. Furthermore, agencies report improved staff morale and increased permitting process transparency among stakeholders as a result of their Lean initiatives. The success stories from environmental agencies that have used Lean speak for themselves:
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources reduced the average time to issue standard air quality construction permits from 62 days to 6 days and eliminated 70 percent of the permitting process steps, moving from 23 to 7 steps.
- Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality decreased their air construction permit backlog by 55 percent and experienced a 50 percent reduction in the permit review timeframe.
Lean techniques identify and eliminate unnecessary and non-valued added process steps and activities that have built up over time. Lean efforts are not just about fixing broken processes. State agencies have found that these methods enable them to understand how their processes are working on the ground and to make adjustments that optimize desired outcomes. By getting process activities and procedures to function smoothly and consistently, agencies free staff time to focus on higher value activities that are more directly linked to environmental protection. While successfully implementing Lean requires hard work and commitment, the results can be impressive.
Lean techniques are an exciting and important new tool agencies have to improve and streamline air permitting processes. Successful Lean implementation also equips permitting authorities to move toward a culture of continuous improvement, enabling on-going program performance improvement.
The Lean in Air Permitting Guide is an important resource for any environmental agency interested in improving their air permitting processes. The guide provides numerous specific examples of the types of changes that several State environmental agencies have made as part of their efforts to streamline and improve air permitting using Lean. Please note that much of the value of implementing Lean lies in the ability of Lean methods—such as value stream mapping and kaizen—to provide a clear map of the current and desired future permitting process and to foster rapid implementation of changes in a coordinated manner. Merely implementing the specific solutions listed in this guide is unlikely to yield the compelling results that environmental agencies have achieved through making these changes in conjunction with the Lean methods. Improvements identified in a Lean event must fit the particular circumstances and processes specific to state air permit programs and the needs of their customers.
This Lean in Air Permitting Guide will help you better understand the potential value and results that can be achieved by applying Lean improvement methods to air permitting processes. For more information on the application of Lean to environmental agency processes, visit EPA’s Lean Government website and ECOS Lean Government Website.