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  • Writer's pictureStaff @ LT&C

Louisiana's environmental chief looks to ease permitting for businesses

"It's knowing that he wants to ensure that we are protecting our environment, that it's clean and it's healthy, while also at the same time making sure that we are bringing people back ... and also developing our industries and businesses," she said. 

Giacometto said two teams of employees are addressing both a comprehensive review of the state's environmental permitting process and of the department's information technology systems. 

"We're currently outlining every single one of the permits that goes out the door ... where we have just added in steps that aren't necessary, making sure that we're still meeting what our regulatory obligations are, and not having any compromise of that," she said. 

Stacey Holley, Giacometto's chief of staff, said after the meeting that Giacometto had determined the need for the permitting process revamp on her own, in part based on her experience as director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service during the administration of former President Donald Trump. 

She "made deep assessments of the agency and noted significant discrepancies and large timeframes associated with permit processing times," said Holley.

"She has tasked highly specialized IT and regulatory staff to design and construct an advanced permitting process that will be accessible to the public via an electronic dashboard on the LDEQ website," Holley said. "This project includes a deep analysis of the permitting process in all divisions of LDEQ as well as strong adherence to compliance with all state and federal regulations."

The dashboard will be available to entities doing business with the department and to the public, Holley said.

At the moment, the revisions are being treated as an internal agency modification, and there are no hearings or meetings planned to ask for public input, she said. 

"However, we are still very early in the process, so public and stakeholder involvement may be considered at some point as we move forward," Holley said. There is no timeframe for the review's completion, she said, and because the work involves the department's existing staff, its cost should be minimal.

Louisiana's complex environmental permitting process is governed in part by federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations that the state has been granted authority to implement, with those regulations in many cases being written into the state's environmental laws. 

Also appearing during the confirmation hearing were five senior DEQ officials appointed by Giacometto during the past few weeks, including Deputy Secretary Jordan DeShotels, who has experience in the Army National Guard and with oilfield service contracting companies and Undersecretary Christian Griffiths, who has 20 years experience with the U.S. Army and Louisiana National Guard in human resources.

Others include Assistant Secretary for Environmental Compliance Jerry Lang, who has been with DEQ for 10 years;  Assistant Secretary for Environmental Assessment Tim Rupert, who has more than 28 years of private and government experience in environmental protection, including four years with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; and Assistant Secretary for Environmental Services Amanda Vincent, who has been with DEQ since 2007, including service as the agency's lead for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill natural resource damage assessment. 

These new appointments followed a first few months marked by resignations of high-level officials  -- including several that those appointees replaced -- and complaints by a number employees about Giacometto's management style.

Senior officials still at DEQ who spoke in April with The Times-Picayune and The Advocate on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal said Giacometto insisted on pre-approving any contact made by employees with individuals in other state agencies, federal agencies, businesses and industries, and non-governmental organizations. 

Several said they were concerned her actions may have caused delays in applying for and approval of federal grants worth millions of dollars, delayed routine inspections of businesses, and possible violation of employees' rights to request leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. 

At the time, Giacometto issued a statement defending her management, saying Landry's directive to her "was to put the agency onto a pro-business footing without sacrificing Louisiana's second-to-none environment. That meant changing the way things were done at DEQ." 

On Wednesday, no members of the Senate committee asked Giacometto about the earlier resignations or the employee complaints.

Committee Chairman Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, told Giacometto and the other appointees that decisions on their confirmations would be made before the 2024 legislative session ends on June 3. 

Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, when asked Tuesday about concerns raised about Giacometto, said, “I haven’t heard a single member complain about her at all."

"I’ve met her a bunch of times, have a great relationship with her," Henry said. "She seems to be attendant to members, very nice, extremely qualified for the job ... As of right now I see no problems with confirmation at all.”


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