DEP and Land Use


DEP is actively engaged in addressing the connection between land use choices and the environment. This effort was begun in 1998 with the release of the 21st Century Environment Commission report, which identified “responsible land use” as the number one environmental issue facing Pennsylvania in the 21st Century. The momentum gained through the early stages of implementation of recommendations of the report continued through 2000 culminating in policies based on the revisions to the Municipalities Planning Code enacted by the passage of Acts 67 and 68.

With a vision that the state needs to offer vibrant, clean and beautiful communities if families and businesses are going to call Pennsylvania home, Governor Rendell has significantly expanded the scope of responsibility of state agencies to foster reinvestment in Pennsylvania’s many cities and towns, economic development that will sustain and grow urban and rural economies, and conserve the state’s natural, heritage and fiscal resources.

The issues involved are complex, and the state is working on many fronts to address them. Participating in key groups including the Economic Development Committee of the Cabinet, Interagency Land Use Team, and State Planning Board, DEP is an integral part of shaping an action-oriented agenda to bring about the Governor’s vision. On this page you will find a compilation of the programs, policies and initiatives that DEP is involved with that tie the environment to land use.

Guiding Documents

The Administration has developed a number of documents that help define a vision for the Commonwealth and guide the decisions of its agencies.

The Land Use Action Plan was the first step in a process of coordinating Commonwealth agencies efforts to create opportunities for implementing community and economic development projects that enhance the overall quality of life for our citizens.

In the DEP Priorities Statement, Secretary McGinty sets out an aggressive agenda for greater environmental and public health protection as a driver of economic growth. Priorities include: sustainable energy production and use; watershed protection; community revitalization and development; mine safety; and fiscal responsibility. All DEP programs are conducting a review of regulations to see how they can be improved to meet the priorities. More information about specific changes will be available as any draft changes to regulations are proposed. See our Public Participation Center for more information on regulations.

The Keystone Principles for Growth, Investment and Resource Conservation are a set of principles and criteria that will be used by state agencies to guide investment and support local growth and economic development.

The Interagency Letter of Understanding is a joint agreement among ten agencies creating a common process to ensure that consistent county and local planning and zoning are considered in state agency permitting and funding decisions under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Code.

The Economic Development Committee of the Cabinet Executive Order and Agricultural Land Preservation Executive Order lay out the Governor’s directives concerning these two key issues.

DEP Land Use Policies

DEP’s Policy Office has responsibility within the Department for coordinating land use issues and implementing programs that realize the vision laid out in the documents above. The Policy Office, working closely with Department programs, has developed several policies that move the Commonwealth closer.

The Land Use Permits Policy addresses how DEP considers comprehensive planning and zoning ordinances in DEP’s decision making process concerning the permitting of facilities and infrastructure; and when DEP relies upon comprehensive planning and zoning ordinances in DEP’s decision-making process concerning the permitting of facilities and infrastructure.

The Land Use Grants Policy promotes sound land use planning and development by considering comprehensive plans and generally consistent zoning ordinances in DEP’s decision making process for grants and funding decisions related to facilities and infrastructure.

Note: These two policies are open for public comment on proposed changes incorporating the elements of the letter of understanding. To view a copy of the proposed changes, please click here. The comment period closes December 12, 2005.

The Land Use Multi-Municipal Policy addresses how DEP will consider multi-municipal planning efforts in the awarding of financial or technical assistance by the Department.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Policy provides policy guidance to DEP staff to consider ways to prevent the irreversible loss of prime agricultural land and administer DEP’s programs so that DEP funds and DEP-administered federal funds are not used to encourage the conversion of prime agricultural land to other uses when feasible alternatives are available.

The DEP Guide to Permits and the General Information Form contain information about how these policies affect the application process.

Connecting Land and Water

There is a strong connection between land and water. Adequate water quality and quantity are necessary for economic growth, while how we use our land has an impact on water quality and quantity. The following DEP water planning programs are directly related to land use decisions.

The Act 167 Stormwater Planning Program

The Act 537 Sewage Facilities Planning

The Act 220 Water Resources Planning

Water Planning Office

Land Use Links

There are many other DEP and other agency programs and resources that relate to land use. The links provided here will help to give a broader scope of activity to bring about “responsible land use.”

Growing Greener

Growing Greener II

DEP Land Recycling Program

DCED Land Use tools

State Planning Board

Municipalities Planning Code

Streamlined Permitting



For more information on DEP’s land use initiatives, please contact DEP’s Policy Office.


Hayley Book, Director