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Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell Speaks at Lehigh Valley Event

By Colin McEvoy on May 18, 2017

Acting Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking at the Hotel Bethlehem.

Acting Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking at the Hotel Bethlehem.

Patrick McDonnell, acting Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), during his visit to the Lehigh Valley on May 18.

McDonnell spoke to a crowd of more than 50 people at Hotel Bethlehem during a Conversation & Cocktails event organized by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).

McDonnell said much of his focus has been on improving the efficiency of internal processes at the DEP, such as permitting and document management. He has hosted listening sessions across the state seeking input on how to improve interaction with the department.

“We’re constantly looking at things and trying to determine how we can get better,” he said.

For example, the DEP has implemented e-permitting and e-inspection platforms allowing outside parties to submit electronically, reducing time and improving proficiency, McDonnell said.

The department also introduced a general permitting process for sites smaller than five acres, he said. This means applicants will not have to go through the full permitting process, which also allows the DEP to focus more attention on sites with greater environmental impact and risk.

More than 50 people attended the LVEDC Conversation & Cocktails event with acting Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.

More than 50 people attended the LVEDC Conversation & Cocktails event with acting Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.

McDonnell said these internal improvements have been challenging, as the department has experienced 10 years of budget cuts, with 754 jobs lost over that time, bringing the agency down from about 3,200 workers to just over 2,400. Those cuts have affected the DEP’s water programs the hardest, he said.

The Conversation and Cocktails series gives LVEDC investors the opportunity to have targeted interaction with members of the legislative body in an intimate setting to discuss pressing economic issues.

Past events from the series were hosted by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, and Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

McDonnell was appointed Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania DEP by Gov. Tom Wolf in May 2016. Prior to that, he had most recently served as the department’s Director of Policy, where he oversaw the agency’s regulation and policy development processes.

He also has Lehigh Valley roots, having obtained his bachelor’s degree in politics from DeSales University, and his master’s degree in political science from Lehigh University.

McDonnell also ran the State Energy Office and was charged with coordination of renewable energy and energy efficiency issues. He had previously spent 13 years with DEP in a variety of roles, before briefly leaving the department to serve as executive policy manager for former Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The Conversations and Cocktails series is sponsored by Air Products. For more information about upcoming LVEDC events, visit and bookmark lehighvalley.org/events.

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