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Notice of an Interim Final Policy for the Imposition of Fees for PNDI Receipts Generated Through the PA Conservation Explorer

[45 Pa.B. 5688]
[Saturday, September 19, 2015]

 The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is announcing an interim final Policy for the Imposition of Fees for PNDI Receipts Generated Through the PA Conservation Explorer. It reads as follows:

Title: Policy for the Imposition of Fees for PNDI Receipts Generated Through the PA Conservation Explorer
Authority: The Conservation and Natural Resources Act (CNRA) (71 P. S. §§ 1340.101—1340.1103) (Section 305)
Policy: The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will impose a $40 fee on users who receive Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) Receipts generated through the new Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer and use those fees solely to support the administration of the PA Conservation Explorer. The modest fee would help to offset the costs associated with the maintenance, support and administration of the PNDI review process, which is a function within the PA Conservation Explorer, as non-dedicated funds continue to decline.
Purpose: This guidance implements Section 305 of the CNRA—Ecological and geologic resources—which grants DCNR authority to inventory and survey the ecological resources of the Commonwealth and make the resulting information available in a form convenient for reference.
Applicability: This guidance applies only to users who receive a final PNDI Receipt through the PA Conservation Explorer and who are not otherwise exempt from the fee (see exemptions section below). Users without access to a computer who submit a project directly to each of the four jurisdictional agencies (DNCR, PA Game Commission, PA Fish and Boat Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) for a PNDI review or users who use only the conservation planning aspects of the PA Conservation Explorer will not be charged a fee.
Disclaimer: The policies and procedures herein are not an adjudication or a regulation. There is no intent on the part of DCNR to give the rules in these policies that weight or deference. This document establishes the framework within which DCNR will exercise its administrative discretion in the future. DCNR reserves the discretion to deviate from this policy statement if circumstances warrant.
Page Length: 1 page
Effective Date: Two months from the date of publica-
tion—November 18, 2015

Background

 Section 305, Ecologic and geologic resources, of the Conservation and Natural Resources Act (CNRA), 71 P. S. § 1340.305, provides DCNR with the power and duty to inventory and survey the ecologic resources of the Commonwealth, and make them available in a form convenient for reference. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) performs this work through its Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP) and makes the data available through its current PNDI Tool.

 The current PNDI Tool is an online, interactive database housed and managed by DCNR that provides locational and biological information on threatened, endangered, and special concern species and resources in Pennsylvania. The PNDI Tool is generally used by the public to screen development or conservation planning projects for potential impacts to these species and resources prior to applying for a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection or prior to obtaining state or federal grants.

 Access to PNDI information has been free-of-charge since the program's inception in 1982, and access to the online PNDI Tool has been free-of-charge since it was developed in 2005. However, in recent years, costs for the PNHP have increased, while funding has decreased, requiring DCNR to trim program staff (including staff working on the PNDI Tool). The program currently has no dedicated funding stream.

PA Conservation Explorer: PA's Conservation Planning and Environmental Review Tool

 DCNR is developing a new tool to replace the current PNDI Tool. The new tool, called the PA Conservation Explorer, will include both a conservation planning and PNDI environmental review component—which will provide greater access to information, leading to better planning and reduced project impacts. This new tool will include visible conservation information to support project planning as well as an environmental review function where users can obtain their PNDI Receipts. These two tools in one will provide greater efficiency and certainty for both industry and conservation.

 Several other states provide species habitat information similar to Pennsylvania—but each state is unique in how it provides and presents species information and how it charges a fee to access to that information. The costs charged by other states range from $30 per project site to $6,000 per year to access visible species habitat statewide.

 DCNR's goal is to provide visible conservation and species habitat information to encourage planning, while, at the same time, allowing users to view sensitive ecological areas within the Commonwealth. The fee will be applied only when a PNDI Receipt is obtained through the PA Conservation Explorer. The PNDI Receipt will list species names and conservation measures (where applicable), which the user may need for permitting or funding requirements.

 PNDI reviews can still be obtained free-of-charge for users without access to a computer using the standard process of requesting project review directly from the jurisdictional agencies—DCNR, PA Game Commission, PA Fish and Boat Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instead of generating a PNDI receipt instantly through the PA Conservation Explorer.

Exemptions

 Federal, state and local government agencies that are performing a governmental function in the normal course of business, including but not limited to permitting, planning, grants or land management, are exempt from the fee.

 DCNR will hold a comment period ending 30 days from the date of publication, or October 19, 2015.

 Questions regarding the policy should be directed to DCNR Bureau of Forestry's Natural Heritage Section at RA-HeritageReview@pa.gov.

CINDY ADAMS DUNN, 
Secretary

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 15-1691. Filed for public inspection September 18, 2015, 9:00 a.m.]



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