COVID-19 Guidance

COVID-19 Guidance

Pulls Back Some COVID-19 Pandemic Relief for Local and Regional Permit Granting Authorities

With the enactment of Chapter 201 by the Massachusetts Legislature on November 10, 2020, municipal, district, county and regional permitting authorities (collectively, “permitting authorities”) now will have to take action sooner than they may have expected.

During the COVID-19 declared State of Emergency in Massachusetts, the state’s reporting, testing, cleanup, compliance, enforcement and other matters under the Massachusetts Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Act (G.L. c.21E) have been the subject of MassDEP Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup (BWSC) guidance documents. These guidelines are said to prioritize the health and safety of the public, agency staff, and cleanup parties.

On March 24, 2020, Governor Baker issued COVID-19 Order No. 17: “Order Suspending State Permitting Deadlines and Extending the Validity of State Permits”, which, among other things, gave state agencies additional time to act on pending or new permit applications and conduct administrative hearings. This Order applied only to state agencies within or reporting to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs or the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

It’s becoming clear that Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms will continue to be used as a replacement for face-to-face meetings, and for longer than first anticipated when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Knowing how to effectively run or participate in virtual meetings is increasingly important.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the usual procedures, rules, and regulations for land use permitting. Since March 2020, Massachusetts lawyers and their clients have seen new legislation that says how municipalities can accept, review, grant, deny, and enforce their permits.

UPDATE (July 27, 2020): On July 1, 2020, the Governor issued COVID-19 Order No. 42, “Order Resuming State Permitting Deadlines and Continuing to Extend the Validity of Certain State Permits” which changes some of the deadlines discussed above. A summary of Order No. 42 can be found here. Order No. 42 replaces Order No. 19.

(Revised July 27, 2020.)

The flurry of emergency executive orders and court orders, plus a new state statute, have provided needed relief and flexibility to local and state government agencies and courts to cope with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts.