Agencies | Governor
Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Agency
Department of Environmental Quality
 
Board
Air Pollution Control Board
 
chapter
Public Participation Guidelines [9 VAC 5 ‑ 5]

19 comments

All comments for this forum
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8/15/21  9:53 pm
Commenter: Linda L. Cole

Air Pollution Control Board Public Participation Is Essential
 
1. Two basic tenants of a healthy democracy are accountability and transparency. Government is accountable to the citizenry. Through transparency, the citizens are able to scrutinize government actions. Without public participation in the democratic process our form of government ceases to exit. Therefore, I submit the following:
A. VDEQ should revise 9VAC5-5 to ensure the maximum opportunity for public participation.
a) As clearly demonstrated during the pandemic, virtual meetings are an essential component of public participation. All public meetings must be offered as in-person and virtual. All public meetings must be recorded and offered for subsequent playback for ease of viewing thereby accommodating the disabled, the infirm, the working, and all others who are unable to attend a public meeting/virtual meeting because of schedule conflicts.
b) Comments from the citizenry must be allowed through various means.
- In-person during public meetings,
- Via Zoom or similar virtual meetings,
- In writing via email or regular mail, and
- Via the Town Hall website.
B. VDEQ should eliminate 9VAC5-5-30-C. The VDEQ should not be keeping lists separate from the notifications provided by Town Hall.
C. VDEQ should review 9VAC5-5-50.A.2 in light of the 2020 Environmental Justice Study recommendations for building relationships and engaging the public BEFORE writing regulations, guidance, etc. It is far better to engage stakeholders BEFORE issuing new regulations in order to ensure concerns are addressed early in the process. It is much more difficult to make changes once a decision on the path forward is made than to develop the path forward together.
D. Reduce the number of people needed to request a public hearing from 25 to 5 in 9 VAC5-5-100.C.3.
2. I ask you to remember the words of Barbara Jordan, " A government is invigorated when each of us is willing to participate in shaping the future of this great nation." I submit that public participation is what shapes the future of this great Commonwealth. Please join me by strengthening our regulations and guidelines to encourage input from the citizenry.
 
 
CommentID: 99735
 

8/19/21  1:51 pm
Commenter: Elizabeth Ende

Improve Access for Public Participation for the Air Pollution Control Board
 

In order to ensure that vulnerable communities which are at the greatest risk of climate change impacts, positioning of dangerous, noisy and polluting industry equipment and for pollution exposure, the DEQ must improve its Public Participation Guidelines to be more inclusive.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. DEQ should create a list of people and organizations in environmental justice communities based on definitions included in the Environmental Justice Act.  The list should be periodically updated and include any person or organization who requests to be added to the list. 
  2. DEQ should reach out to those on the list in advance of any public participation period.
  3. Create a more user friendly vehicle for entering comments.
  4. Increase the notification period for public hearings from 7 to 15 days.
  5. Ensure that a Regulatory Advisory Panel (RAP) has broad representation to include community members, the industry, and researchers.
  6. Allow a minimum of 60 calendar days for comments following the publication of a notice of periodic review.
  7. Allow in person and virtual participation.
  8. Upon request, provide public notices and technical materials in multiple languages.
CommentID: 99786
 

8/19/21  2:05 pm
Commenter: Beth Kreydatus

Remake the process, listen to citizens
 

To Director Paylor, the Chairs of the Air, Water, and Waste Boards, and every member of the public comment process review,

 

Thank you for taking the time to review the process that you use to enable the public to comment on environmental permitting. This review--and the changes that I hope you choose to make, has been desperately needed to ensure democratic transparency of our permit process, and to ensure environmental justice--something that continues to escape us still in Virginia’s regulatory environment. I write with personal experience regarding the problems with our current system. In the winter and early spring of 2019, I was one of a very small number of people who were aware that Chickahominy Power was seeking permits to build one of the nation’s largest merchant gas plants in Charles City County--a majority-minority rural county 30 miles to the east of my own home, in Henrico. I was alarmed at the projected emissions related to this project, so I dutifully submitted a comment and encouraged some friends and neighbors to do so as well. I’d only learned of the project because a friend of mine with deep connections to the environmental community told me personally. It wasn’t shared widely (or really, at all) online, in the news, or spoken about in public forums. I have the advantage of having access to all those resources and try to stay on top of local environmental issues, but this massive project was clearly--intentionally, I think--flying under the radar. 

 

In June of 2019, I was disgusted to learn that the residents of Charles City--even folks who lived on the same street as the proposed project, were completely unaware of the permitting process, or the threat it might pose to their homes and safety. I helped put together an information session at the Charles City County library, and NONE of the 35 residents who attended this discussion session on June 19, 2019, had heard of the plant until myself and a handful of other concerned volunteers had reached out to them by mail or phone. I found it very easy to contact folks who might be concerned--as a volunteer, I googled churches in the vicinity, found their addresses, and sent them information from the DEQ site. Many of the individuals I wrote to followed up with me. In particular, African American church leaders were desperately worried about what they heard, because they were already dealing with a history of cumulative impacts, there were high cancer rates in the county which they believed were linked to the Waste Management landfill (another DEQ approved facility) that was just a couple miles from the proposed gas plant. And now, without consultation from their state officials or local leadership, they were being told that two gas plants were in the permit queue in their community. 

 

Because these Charles City residents didn’t learn about the plant until two days before the Air Board Hearing (where the gas plant was, ultimately, fully permitted) this meant that--by DEQ policy, which seemed to be a bit fuzzy, but insisted upon at the request of the applicant, despite petitions asking for delay--NONE of the Charles City County residents were permitted to participate in the comment process. Only one resident from the county was able to comment at the Air Board Hearing. The applicant openly acknowledged that when Chickahominy Power had done outreach, they went to the “plantations” (there was apparently a picnic held among the wealthiest in the county at Shirley Plantation). County residents were outraged that they could receive direct information about other county “news,” such as the parade, but not outreach related to something as significant as a massive gas plant. It was particularly disappointing that the outreach so clearly and deliberately overlooked African American residents in the community. After spending two additional years working with residents of Charles City County, I have yet to meet an African American from Charles City County (who did not work in County government) that was aware of the plants before the permit was issued. 

 

I continue to feel outraged at the ways that the permitting process “works” in Virginia. One thing that particularly frustrates me is that, even when tremendous efforts are made by impacted citizens to comment, their communications are largely ignored. After a year of public advocacy led by Concerned Citizens of Charles City County, 1,199 individuals commented or participated in the public hearing on the “Special Exception” for water to supply the Chickahominy gas plant. A significant number of these comments came from Charles City residents. “Only the applicant and two others provided comments in support of this draft groundwater withdrawal special exception,” according to the DEQ. Nevertheless, the Water Control Board unanimously supported the application--it wasn’t clear that the 1,199 comments were taken seriously. 

 

That dismissive process made it clear to me that, even if we improve the participation process, it is essential that the Boards actually LISTEN to the comments of impacted residents, otherwise these efforts for reform are simply for show. There needs to be more transparency and respect shown to impacted communities, and the Boards should give local concerns vastly more weight in their decisions than they have heretofor done. I have asked repeatedly, but I still haven’t heard of a single case where the DEQ denied a powerful applicant their permit, no matter the number of comments opposing one. That data (numbers of polluting permits requested vs. permits denied) needs to be publicly available, as evidence to show whether the DEQ is merely a “permitting body” ready to rubber stamp any application if it’s backed by powerful business interests, or if it’s really an organization that appropriately weighs community concerns related to pollution and makes fair decisions. Furthermore, in order to make these permitting groups more responsive to public concerns, the Boards should always include members of EJ communities who have worked to pursue environmental justice in Virginia broadly. 

 

Improving the process is absolutely necessary. I believe that the DEQ and all of the Boards should make more time and space for community participation, and particularly address the inequities in terms of who gets the most time and attention from permit reviewers. Currently, it’s clear that applicants (wealthy polluters) have an inside track--we need to revamp our system so citizens’ voices are at the forefront. This will require that each polluting permit require multiple meetings, with translation services and support for folks needing transportation or technical support. The DEQ and Boards should hold these meetings both online and in-person, and at times that work for a variety of work and family schedules. It is inadequate to dismiss these steps as “too expensive” -- these steps are essential to enable residents to weigh in on decisions that will forever impact their communities. 

 

There needs to be vastly more outreach, led by a diverse, community-facing outreach staff member or committee, to ensure that residents ARE aware when major polluting industries seek permits in their communities. People are busy, but they do of course care about their health and safety. Applicants should be required to inform residents through social media, calls or letters to community institutions (for instance, letters should have been sent to all of the churches in the vicinity of the facility by Chickahominy, not by me, a random volunteer!) The approach of the DEQ and the state of Virginia needs to be transformed to prioritize open and engaged communication between all of our citizens--and they need to communicate with state leaders -- you-- knowing that their concerns and priorities are reflected in state decision making. 

 

Thank you, Beth Kreydatus, Associate Professor of Focused Inquiry at VCU

 

CommentID: 99787
 

8/19/21  5:09 pm
Commenter: Meredith Haines

Sometimes notification requires an actual notice
 

Dear Board,

I have the privilege of writing to you concerning Public Participation Guidelines precisely because I have the privilege of time to investigate issues and act on them, as well as the informed connections and resources to navigate the process.

I am NOT who you need to be hearing from. It is not my suburban neighborhood that is being threatened with additional massive air pollution burdens. Please keep that foremost in mind as you perform your process review and consider requests - giving extra weight to those who describe their barriers to participation.

As I review the stories of impacted communities finding out from volunteers sharing information (that is nearly always too late to act upon), I might remind you that a hand-delivered page (in both Spanish and English) with timely information and contact names and numbers, is a reasonable approach.  Fairfax County has just notified residents in my area in this very manner, with a page stuck in every door, about an upcoming sewer upgrade project during which service will be out for up to 10 hours. An inconvenience for a day. Projects that will alter every nearby resident, ongoing indefinitely, deserve this level of notification at a  minimum.

As  the coronovirus and wildfires remind us, your air is my air. As rising greenhouse gas concentrations remind us, our air is our entire ecosystem support. Your work is more important than ever, and the public's trust in your decisions, believing that our comments are heard and weighed, is critical.

Thank you for doing this work.

CommentID: 99789
 

8/19/21  9:14 pm
Commenter: Christine Steiffer

Making the engagement process easier
 

Hi, my name is Christine and I’m a native Virginian living in Floyd county. I work as a User Experience designer, making websites and online services easier to use. There are some simple things this board can do to make it easier to get the community feedback needed to make informed decisions:  

  • hold meetings during rail and public transit available hours, and include meeting times outside of standard work hour so that more people can attend
  • include translated materials, translators and deaf interpreters at public meetings
  • Instructions on the Public comment process should be clear and given with enough advanced notice for people to act
  • post information on social media as well as the website
  • A list of environmental justice communities should be maintained and those groups notified with more time to respond since they likely will face impacts sooner
  • Ensure EJ and community outreach specialists are on every board and are actively engaging with impacted communities.

thanks!

CommentID: 99794
 

8/19/21  11:50 pm
Commenter: Rebecca Talbot, Mother's Out Front, Roanoke Team

Public Participation, All DEQ Citizen Boards
 

To the members of DEQ's Citizen Boards:

Our Mother's Out Front Members have traveled to Richmond and other locations to update the State Water Control Board about the execution of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  After driving more than four hours, they had to sit through an entire board meeting until the public forum, during which time they were allowed only three minutes to comment  They were not allowed to pool their minutes to allow for a more comprehensive presentation.  Often board meetings last over 6 hours.  Citizens then have another four plus hour drive to return home.

At the request of the DEQ staff, the March 2019 State Water Control Board meeting had a very strong police presence.  At the end of the meeting, the police literally swept a State Water Control Board member and a House Delegate along with the other citizens out of the room in an aggressive and threatening manner.  Some of our members are afraid to attend future State Water Control Board meetings because of the trauma they experienced.

Please take the following suggestions into consideration to encourage and accommodate the public to be able to provide insights and concerns to the DEQ citizen boards:

  • It is important to have hybrid meetings to allow citizens to participate virtually and in  person.
  • Accommodations should be made for participants to be able to pool their minutes in order to be able to make a comprehensive presentation.
  • Out of consideration for the public who may have to travel long distances and/or take time off from work to attend, please move the public forum to the beginning of the citizen boards meetings.  This enables participants to better plan their time, even if the meeting has a virtual component.

Respectfully submitted,

Rebecca Talbot

On behalf of the Mother's Out Front-Roanoke, VA Team

CommentID: 99797
 

8/20/21  11:12 am
Commenter: Victoria Campbell

Public Access to State Board Meetings on the environment
 

The public has been shut out of commenting on the degregation of Virginias environment. Basically it seema all DEQ does is extend permits for polluters. This love affair with industry has to end. Real progress needs to be made. Combined sewerage going into the river, unabated stormwater with no efforts by the counties to slow or filter the street runoff. People need to be informed of the issues with real data and the meetings for the water and air control boards should be accessible to all of the public. 

CommentID: 99803
 

8/20/21  11:14 am
Commenter: Natalie Pien

Improve Public Notification
 

Hello.  My name is Natalie Pien.  I am a retired public-school teacher from Leesburg, VA.  I was a middle school science teacher and sponsored an Ecology Club for students to make personal connections to Nature and appreciate Virginia’s natural resources.  Thankfully, for my students in Loudoun County, Virginia has the Department of Environmental, DEQ.  DEQ’s Quality Mission, Vision, and Values statements reflect a commitment to protect & enhance Virginia’s environment as well as promote the health and well-being of all Virginians.  Regrettably, for less affluent, rural, and often communities of color, the DEQ fell short and commissioned an environmental justice report conducted by SKEO, https://www.deq.virginia.gov/home/showdocument?id=8624.  It includes four action items related to public engagement: 

5. Accessible Information: Develop tools to provide more transparent, accessible and real-time environmental information to the public. 

6. Relationship Building: Invest in proactively building productive relationships with environmental justice and other adversely impacted communities. 

7. Community Engagement: Proactively and authentically engage communities on issues and decision-making that could potentially affect their health and quality of life. 

8. Environmental Justice Community Capacity: Build the capacity of environmental justice communities to participate meaningfully in environmental decision-making. 

Adopt these recommendations.

 

In addition to the SKEO report, I endorse the technical advocacy letters from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Protect Our Water Heritage Rights, Sierra Club, and Appalachian Voices.

 

For future air permits, existing air quality must be maintained.  If an area has good air quality, it is not OK to emit more pollutants.

 

Finally, I would like to make my own, simple recommendations.  Public notification could be improved if:

  1. Prior to submitting a project to DEQ, require the applicant to notify, by mail, people living within a 3-mile radius (or an alternate distance) of the project site and provide a simple description of the project detailing:
    1. What is proposed
    2. Where it is located & site identified with signage
    3. Why it is proposed
    4. When will it start
    5. How will it be constructed
    6. What pollutants will be emitted & any related limits
  2. Post project intentions in public places like libraries, grocery stores, post office.
  3. Hold hybrid public information session in the impacted community and provide child care.
  4. Change your lens from guiding applicants through the permitting or regulatory process to serving Virginians and protecting Virginia’s natural resources.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to share my comments with you. 

Sincerely,

 

Natalie Pien

20644 Gleedsville Rd

Leesburg, VA 20175

natcpien1@gmail.com

CommentID: 99804
 

8/20/21  11:29 am
Commenter: Bryce D Yoder

Accessibility of Public Participation Process
 

In my personal experience, meetings held designed to be open for "public participation" are rarely accessible to those communities in which the decisions made at said meetings will affect the most.

Most recently, the meeting about the Lambert Compressor Station was scheduled to be held in the middle of the work day, in Richmond, 3 hours south of the community in which it would most affect. This is not an acceptable format for public participation nor is it remotely accessible for those it claims to be. 

Below are some changes I would like to see in order to improve accessibility to those groups most often affected by environmental degradation and development.

Regarding the notification list:

- DEQ should maintain a list of people and organizations in EJ communities that should be notified when regulatory changes are proposed. The EJ office could maintain that list.

- To determine who is an EJ community use the definition from the EJ act 2020.

Regarding the public hearings on regulations:

-The notices for public hearing should be posted on the town hall and commonwealth calendar 15 days prior instead of 7 as is right now

Regarding the public comments:

- A minimum of 60 calendar days to respond following the publication of a notice of periodic review instead of the 21 days. This will allow community members to be informed and prepare comments.

- As much as possible, meetings should be held with options to participate both in person and virtually.

-Public notices and technical materials should be provided or available upon request in multiple languages.

-Meetings should be held at times that are accessible to those most affected by the decisions being mad. 9-5 meetings exclude the most vulnerable communities that must provide for their families during these hours.

CommentID: 99805
 

8/20/21  11:38 am
Commenter: Mary Finley-Brook

Comments about public participation
 

First, all Air Board members must be training in Environmental Justice and how to receive and process comments to avoid violating rights and breaking the law.

Second, I am very concerned about the unresponsiveness of DEQ to public comments. The agency seems to have made its mind up about permits prior to opening the public comment period. The DEQ staff responses to comments seem to be merely justifications for not considering the input from the public.

My solution would be to for there to be a truly independent review of any permitting cases elevated to the Air Board, Water Board, or Waste Board. DEQ cannot and should not be filtering and screening public information for these citizen bodies. There is too much control by the regulatory agency. If cases are elevated to a citizen board, please create a process when board members hear from the applicant, regulator and public in a fair way without DEQ having an upper hand to privilege or bias information.  

Our citizen boards need to regain independence and to carry out all roles granted to them in their statues. DEQ and Commonwealth attorneys often suggest Board Members do not have authority to make decisions when in fact they do.

We need to uphold the 2020 EJ Act.

 

CommentID: 99810
 

8/20/21  1:44 pm
Commenter: Lauren Landis

Public Participation Guidelines
 

On behalf of Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the communities that we serve: public participation guidelines must be updated and standardized to prioritize community input and participation. This includes a standard 30 day advanced notice for public hearings, a uniform 60 day public comment period, hybrid options for submitting comments and participating in hearings, hearing venues that directly on public transportation lines, outreach materials in English and Spanish and distributed to community centers, faith centers, and public libraries, in addition to notice on broadband-dependent sources like social media and government websites. 

To further center community voices, a Regulatory Advisory Panel should be automatically created when requested by the community/a community member, not at the discretion of the board.

CommentID: 99819
 

8/20/21  2:04 pm
Commenter: Jolene Mafnas, Food & Water Watch

FWW Comment on Public Participation Process
 

To the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board:

Food & Water Watch (FWW) is a national climate organization with around a million members nationwide and 28,000 members in Virginia. On behalf of FWW and our members, I am writing to provide input on how the Department of Environmental Quality’s public participation process can work for all Virginians in the Commonwealth.

To ensure future regulatory processes are fair and just, the Department of Environmental Quality and its State Boards—which will be collectively referenced as DEQ throughout this comment—must increase accessibility, prioritize environmental justice, and execute robust community outreach. 

To increase accessibility, DEQ meetings must be held at times and locations most convenient for the affected community. For example hosting informational meetings after standard work hours and locations easily accessible by public transportation and/or utilize a remote in-person hybrid participation option. In addition, DEQ must ensure meeting notices and content are language accessible to the affected community like distributing flyers in multiple languages, posting information in non-English newspapers, and offering live translation of educational events and public hearings as well as providing translations of technical materials upon request. All public participation regulations should also clearly and uniformly state the length of public comment periods, steps to extend the public comment process, and ways to request a public hearing. Additionally, a notice of a public hearing should be advertised for at least 15 days prior instead of the current requirement of seven days.

To prioritize environmental justice, DEQ should maintain a list of environmental justice (EJ) communities and be in regular contact with EJ leaders who are most impacted by regulatory decisions. When there are new projects and/or permit applications submitted to DEQ, DEQ must promptly identify nearby EJ communities and follow the Commonwealth’s EJ laws to ensure these communities receive additional outreach steps and longer time frames to participate in the public process. DEQ must ensure EJ specialists sit on all regulatory advisory panels and provide clear and transparent information about how EJ communities input will be weighed. DEQ also needs to provide a public, detailed outreach plan that answers these questions:

  • How will the DEQ fulfill the requirement for engagement and fully implement EJ into their outreach?

  • How will DEQ develop procedures and guidance for their staff on robust community engagement?

  • Will DEQ create an implementation plan outlining how EJ communities can be meaningfully engaged on the rule making and regulations determined by citizen advisory boards?

To execute robust community outreach, DEQ must announce meeting and educational event notifications through social media posts and text notifications in addition to the DEQ website. DEQ should create a public outreach program for underrepresented and impacted communities to ensure meaningful public engagement as well as to coordinate long-term public engagement processes. DEQ should fund, support and run educational opportunities that are language accessible as well as at a time and location most convenient to the local community. DEQ should also have community outreach specialists that sit on all regulatory advisory panels.

Through these recommendations we believe DEQ’s public outreach efforts will more effectively serve the public interests and prioritize the interests of all Virginians including vulnerable and EJ communities.

Sincerely,

Jolene Mafnas

Virginia Organizer

Food & Water Watch

jmafnas@fwwatch.org

 

CommentID: 99821
 

8/20/21  2:17 pm
Commenter: Grace Tuttle

Public Participation Comments
 

I appreciate the opportunity to provide input. DEQ and all citizen boards should adjust their public participation regulations to prioritize Environmental Justice. 

I offer the following recommendations: 
 
For any regulatory action: 
 
- Institutionalize a hybrid option of virtual and in person to both submit comments and to participate in any public hearing, RAP or other function. This could include an answering service and virtual participation in any regulatory function. In addition, hearings or other functions related to regulatory actions should be held at accessible times outside of regular work hours as well as accessible to communities physically. 
- DEQ, citizen boards and Environmental Justice office should identify EJ communities as defined by the Virginia Environmental Justice Act, notify, appropriately consult and engage with those communities each time there is a regulatory action
- Do not discount, discard or "count as one comment" if citizens submit form letters or similar comments. That should not discount the value or weight of their input. 
 
CommentID: 99824
 

8/20/21  3:54 pm
Commenter: Rose Hendricks

Public engagement
 

I appreciate DEQ's commitment to environmental justice, and urge the agency to ensure that all public participation is accessible, inclusive and meaningful in order to ensure environmental justice for all Virginians. 

This includes:

-Hold meetings at times that community members can attend, in places that are accessible to people without cars, and in all relevant languages.

-Tracking and making public demographic information about the community residents impacted by any proposed decisions and the people who have participated in the public comment process. The communities who will be affected should also be notified through meaningful outreach processes in advance of regulatory changes.

-Clear and transparent information about how community input will be weighed

-DEQ should meaningfully invest in public outreach, including through a community engagement hub that provides community education and engagement opportunities that meet communities where they are, with a priority to engage with communities likely to be affected by decisions and those who are considered environmental justice communities

These actions would all enable the DEQ to continue to act on environmental justice

CommentID: 99828
 

8/20/21  4:39 pm
Commenter: Katie Whitehead

Comment on Existing VA DEQ Public Participation Guidelines (9VAC15-11)
 

Comment on Existing VA DEQ Public Participation Guidelines (9VAC15-11)

From: Katie Whitehead

Date: August 20, 2021

I have these suggestions:

  1. Do more to engage the public and do it early in the process.
  2. Help people understand what email lists they might want to sign up for to stay abreast of the regulations that concern them.
  3. Provide longer public comment periods. Make clear to people that they must comment during the official comment period to be eligible to address citizen boards later.
  4. Make public comments accessible to the public as they are submitted or shortly thereafter.
  5. Index public comments; make them readily searchable.
  6. When providing DEQ Response to Public Comments to the public as a pdf document, make the pdf searchable and allow readers to copy and paste.
  7. Define “environmental justice community.” Map environmental justice communities. Engage environmental justice communities, adapting outreach to actually reach people in language they understand.
  8. Develop a relationship with communities. Develop two-way communication. This would likely require additional, dedicated staffing.
  9. Educate people about DEQ and its responsibilities. Teach people what authority DEQ has – and does not have. When people express concerns outside DEQ’s purview, don’t just say “that’s outside our purview.” Explain who can address their concerns (whether at the federal, state, or local level) or what it would take for DEQ to be able to address their concerns.
  10. Allow public comment to citizen boards on all regulations from the early stages of development.
  11. Allow the public to hear explanations of the law given to citizen boards by DEQ’s legal counsel (Office of the Attorney General), with as few exceptions as possible.
  12. Provide independent legal counsel to citizen boards. There can be a conflict of interest between DEQ and citizen boards. Independent legal counsel could better assist all citizens in understanding how best to work within the law for the public good.
  13.  Don’t rely on regulated industries to perform outreach or inform the public. Propaganda does not facilitate meaningful public engagement.
  14. Hold meetings that are simultaneously in-person and virtual. If necessary, ask the legislature to rewrite FOIA regulations to allow hybrid meetings.
CommentID: 99830
 

8/20/21  4:53 pm
Commenter: Lakshmi Fjord, Ph.D.

Lakshmi Fjord Public Comment: Virginia Public Participation Guidelines reform
 

Lakshmi Fjord, Ph.D. / 420 Altamont St., Charlottesville, VA / lakshmi.fjord@gmail.com

August 20, 2021

 

Public Participation Guidelines Public Comment, submitted by email to DEQ (melissa.porterfield@deq.virginia.gov) and to each Board at their separate Virginia Regulatory Town Hall sites.  

 

For the last seven years, I have worked as a fulltime volunteer anthropologist using my professional expertise to work with 5 environmental justice communities in Virginia starting with Union Hill in 2014, to do community participatory site-based evidence research. That should have been done under state and federal laws and statutes by VDEQ for Virginia toxic pollution site applications and FERC and Army Corps of Engineers for site environmental and EJ reviews for federal applications – as required public participatory engagement with site investigations.

 

DEQ persists in not doing site investigations as the First Step for all toxic polluting permit processes, which even if not mandated, would the most economical from a DEQ budgetary perspective to identify site issues immediately. Instead, DEQ spends thousands of collective staff days (3 years in Dominion’s Virginia ACP air permit case) paid by taxpayers to over and over revise toxic polluting permits to support developers’ odds of approval by the Citizen Boards. As evidence for Guidelines reforms:  

  1. In Sept. 2015, right after ACP filed its application with FERC, Friends of Buckingham sent 51 letters to DEQ requesting a site visit to the 68.5-acre site ACP chose over their prior purchased 147-acre, sparsely populated, white majority site also on the Transo easement. DEQ ignored and never responded to these collective requests. Instead, DEQ’s required “site visit” to the ACP compressor station site was also their required presence at its air permit hearing at Buckingham Middle School and last day of public comments, Sept. 11, 2018.
  2. At the small community meeting held before the hearing, Mike Dowd informed us that the ACP air permit had been “failed” by DEQ three times, and they revised it to become the permit they approved. He also informed us that any evidence related to environmental justice findings would not be read or summarized by DEQ comment readers for the Air Board as EJ data was not “technical” evidence.

Clearly, we ignored his erroneous restrictions as we were quite familiar with the Air Board’s statutory responsibilities to do site suitability review and to weigh the costs to the impacted people with the benefits of the toxic polluting operations. As the 4th Circuit Court’s Opinion to overturn ACP air permit reveals, 3 years of DEQ staff time to revise Dominion’s air permit and to deny our community EJ evidence VS $0 spent for the site community facing the largest compressor station in the U.S., a metering and regulatory station, and ACP’s intersection with 3 existing Transco pipelines = a total loss to Virginia.  

 

I presently collaborate with Union Hill on nearby siting of open pit gold mining, Pine Grove Community and History Project, with Brown Grove Preservation on the Wegman’s distribution center, with C5 Group in Charles City County, and with the Pittsylvania County NAACP to stop the MVP-Southgate Lambert compressor station. I have made 44 expert technical comments in local, federal, and state public comments for the ACP, MVP, and the EJ site issues listed above; and on FERC public participation, and today on DEQ and Citizen Boards public participation.

 

Guidelines Reforms

 

1.Public Participation is First Step in permit processes by DEQ

            In their role as toxic polluting permit reviewers, advisors about permit improvements, and technical specifications, permit writers and summarizers of public comments given in permit comment periods for the Citizen Boards who will deny or approve these permits, DEQ must prioritize as their first step, a site investigation that can only be accurate as the technical details of turbines used, for instance, if they are done in collaboration with the cultural experts with detailed knowledge of the impacted people, the site history and cultural practices related to land uses, topography, hydrogeological, air, water, and soil conditions, and economic uses of surrounding land for business, growing food, recreation and more.

 

Site investigations to be evidentiary and fruitful must then be primarily time by DEQ spent listening and recording the community site evidence related by most impacted community members, local religious and secular leaders, principals and teachers of public schools, academic and other cultural experts on the community and its history, local historic preservation groups and Dept. of Historic Resources regional field representatives, civic organizations, small business owners, for just a few examples. Every hour of time spend learning from the site community is time and money saving for DEQ in the long permit process run.

 

Site investigations before proceeding with the analyzing the details of the application, prepare staff to consider the impacts on that community and its cultural and physical environment when they read the planned activities and operations at this site and the technical details about the sources of toxic pollution.

 

2.Inclusive Public Participation information meetings by DEQ

Because this section has been described in detail in the SKEO report and in numerous public comments to you all, the only thing I would add to requirements suggested is that DEQ permit budgetary funds be put aside for two consultant fees for site communities. One would be a local community consultant to write cultural appropriate, language consistent newsletters to be sent to all households within a 5-mile radius of the proposed site. If telephone or email addresses are available to follow up with contacts by these means.

 

To reiterate emphases given elsewhere: if DEQ uses inclusive design principles to guide its actions, then planning for certain populations’ needs will grant access to everyone: that is, plan for people with vision, hearing and speaking impairments, people who use signed languages and people for whom English is a 2nd or 3rd language; low-literacy populations, people living in internet deserts; who live without computers and smart phones; people living in areas of low-cell coverage; who have only one access route from homes; whose postal service is hampered by topography, flooding, and so on.

 

3.Community participatory action research as public participation  

All of the community-based research on household demographics, pre-existing health conditions, family heritage at proposed new source pollution sites, including family burials and unmarked burials, historic schools and churches, businesses, and recreation uses of land -- are in fact site investigations. This community evidence needs to be evaluated using the same scientific peer review for its methods and findings -- as must developer-generated data that has been solely privileged by DEQ to date.

 

The persistence of DEQ denying historic Free Black built or historic Appalachian community EJ data for every one of the infrastructure projects that I collaborate to provide in permit public comments must change. DEQ must no longer erase EJ data from its permit summaries. DEQ must no longer erase the PM2.5 emissions data for a project’s operational activities, such as for Wegman’s thousands of vehicular traffic roundtrips, if these operations are requirements for the project at this site. DEQ stated that this information was not “technical data” needed for the Wegman’s water permit. DEQ cherry-picking of operations evidence must stop.

ACP lost all 8 of its approved permits on appeals because the permit decision-makers DID NOT consider the expert technical data given in public comments that countered ACP-generated data that contained key omissions or misinformation.

 

DEQ needs to undertake major reform about how they and the Citizen Boards evaluate what constitutes “replicable scientific research methods and findings” and their almost complete lack of such research methods used in applicant-generated data about the site community, its history, its health impacts, and most especially, environmental scientific expertise from research studies of health impacts of its operational emissions on air, water, and soil shared with people, animals and drinking water sources for towns and regions.

 

4.DEQ staff must read the public comments for the toxic polluting project whose permit they are working on, to glean the public participatory evidence given about the site, such as the community evidence, and other data listed above – as part of scientific review of technical information needed for their permit writers.

Public comments are integral parts of public participation, yet DEQ does not read the ones made to federal regulatory agencies, such as FERC or Army Corps of Engineers that precede Virginia air, water, and waste permits. When these data and evidence have been granted great weight by US Courts of Appeal, DEQ must consider these as carefully as the latest turbine data.

 

 5.DEQ uses of EJ Screen and other software tools used to uncover demographic evidence based on census tract data must be peer-reviewed by outside evaluators and compared alongside demographic findings made through public participation.  

DEQ did not accept as credible the Union Hill community study evidence for the air permit. For their demographic information submitted for the site, DEQ used EJ SCREEN, a proprietary software tool that uses census tract data. We learned that DEQ excised key parts of the EJScreen findings which ultimately manipulated the demographic information DEQ gave to the Air Board about the site community. Dr. Ryan Emanuel, North Carolina State University environmental scientist, peer reviewed DEQ’s submission EJ Screen data for the compressor station site and did the same EJSCREEN himself. He found that DEQ had submitted data without all 11 summary pages of EJ indices of vulnerability. Which he found located between 10% and 30% of the highest vulnerability in the state for this site when compared to the state averages – even with extremely poor census tract data. 

 

6.Water and Air Control Board hearings must be entirely reformed

I waited for seven hours online to make my technical comment for the Wegman’s Water Permit, only to be told that in order to spare the all-volunteer Water Board members, I needed to give up my comment time. As a volunteer expert myself, that sort of circumstance must no longer take place.

 

The stress this invented time pressure causes is entirely DEQ-created and must stop. These are constructed barriers to the public participation needed to get decision-makers the evidence they need to deny or approve permits:

  • DEQ must not take hours to read to participants and the Boards their summary of comments at the beginning of the hearing. It is unlikely that Board members have not read these.
  • Commenters have read them in order to change our comments to fight back against DEQ’s restrictions on what is summarized or what we are allowed to comment on.  

DEQ dictating what evidence is allowed or not led to why DEQ lost our lawsuit, BUT only because we did give evidence they said we could not.

  • Therefore, the public comment hearing must be scheduled based on the number of commenters who made written comments. Each must be allowed their allotted time.  
  • It was stated erroneously that the Water Board does not have the authority to extend their hearing or public comment periods: PROOF: THE AIR BOARD DID FOR ACP AIR PERMIT, when they first scheduled the air permit hearing for two days, Nov. 8-9, 2018, when a Board member asked for and they voted on a postponement until Dec. 18, when they approved 3 more weeks of public comments on my Union Hill Community Research Report and DEQ’s EJ Screen and Dominion’s EJ Screen demographics. Then, made their decision on Jan. 8, 2019 to approve. Overturned on Jan. 7, 2020. 

 

7. DEQ must be transparent and give accounting for staff time given to public participation activities directly compared with staff time given applicant activities staff time.

All DEQ staff time on permits needs to be accounted for and made transparent in order to reform the inequity between taxpayer time spent to support applicants and staff time spent on public participatory engagement activities. Both sets of time are required information needed for permit analyses and writing. Thus, under public participation engagement is project site investigation, public comment reading to give evidence to permit analyzers and writers, and to include all site-related evidence in all permit comment summaries as “technical information needed for permits.” This then would be compared -- as bookkeeping ledger accounting -- with staff time spent with the developer, its staff and consultants, DEQ’s research on all project technical aspects; including research on operational activities that will impact the community and environment, and writing.

 

Conclusion

We, the concerned citizens of Virginia, hope DEQ and all the Citizen Boards will embrace the statutory responsibilities given DEQ and Air Board, as adjudicated by the US Court of Appeals 4th Circuit, to conduct your own site suitability, site-specific environmental impact and environmental justice reviews and not rely on industry manipulated data peer reviewed and found inaccurate.

 

In the final permit analysis, signed by DEQ officials on January 9, 2019, the only issues that DEQ considered as relevant to “Site Suitability” of the compressor station in Union Hill were: (1) an October 2017 site evaluation, which ignored the local residential population; (2) the SUP issued by Buckingham County; and (3) projected compliance with ambient air quality standards.  J.A. 2993. This evidence was incomplete, improper, and rendered unreasonable by-subsequent evidence…[4th Ct. Decision, P, 45-46].

 

We consider it imperative toward shared goals of racial equity and environmental justice, to quickly act against climate change -- in which the siting of toxic polluting sources in EJ communities is a root driver -- and an end to the disproportionate health disparities experienced by Black and Brown populations because of the persistence in siting choices near or in their communities. The reform of DEQ and Citizen Boards public participation guidelines, if made into daily practice and budgetary realities, will shift that needle toward treating Virginia citizens, their lands and communities, their knowledge and cultures, with respect equal to that now shown as deference toward toxic polluting corporate developers projects and public relations claims about jobs and economic growth.  

 

Respectfully submitted,

Lakshmi Fjord

 

Scholar-in-Residence, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Virginia

Union Hill Freedmen Family Research Group/Friends of Buckingham

Pine Grove Community and History Project

Brown Grove Preservation Group

Climate Ambassador, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Founder, convener, Cvlle Peoples’ Tribunal on the Environmental Justice

  Impacts of Fracked Gas – ACP and MVP

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CommentID: 99832
 

8/20/21  6:25 pm
Commenter: Jessica Sims

Improvements to the Public Participation Guidelines for the Air Pollution Control Board (9 VAC 5-5)
 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. My suggestions for improving the public participation guidelines for the regulatory processes of the Air Pollution Control Board (9 VAC 5-5) are to: 1) improve public accessibility, 2) deepen community engagement and 3) better incorporate environmental justice.

Stronger public accessibility could be achieved by: providing increased access to regulatory deadlines; providing more notice for upcoming decision-making timelines; offering step by step tutorials on agency and Board websites, and as part of public hearings, on how to navigate the public participation process; providing foreign language translation services, including sign language, for written materials and at hearings; and allowing submission of comments on regulatory processes via answering service or transcription.

Community engagement could be deepened by proactive outreach to communities if a regulatory decision will have real world consequences on their lives; working more closely with local health departments to improve community awareness and outreach for regulations which potentially include health impacts; and expanding ways for the public to learn about and participate in regulatory processes, including encouraging participation on a RAP.

Environmental justice could be better incorporated via working in closer collaboration with environmental justice communities; maintaining a list/map of environmental justice communities within the Commonwealth; and fully engaging the DEQ EJ Office to provide improved EJ processes, as mandated by the Environmental Justice Act. 

Although the regulatory process is dense and seemingly opaque, the results of decisions made through these processes have direct consequences on Virginians. 

Thank you for your consideration of my comments,

Jessica Sims

Richmond, VA 

 

CommentID: 99836
 

8/20/21  8:06 pm
Commenter: Anne Stewart

Meaningful connections w/ communities
 

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts. My name is Anne Stewart. I am a resident of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. My spouse and I have raised our two children here and we all share a love of beauty of the Valley. We continue to make memories connecting with each other in nature – from the shores of Cape Charles to hiking the AT we find ourselves enriched, sustained, and in awe of the wonder that surrounds us. And we are concerned. Concerned that not all our citizens can participate in enjoying our common natural wealth and concerned that nature is not sufficiently protected.

 

I was heartened by Virginia’s efforts to address environmental justice by hiring a director and coordinators and believe it is crucial to continue to attend to this issue by increasing representation of all communities – especially those disproportionately and negatively impacted. Active outreach and having variety of ways to receive information from the effected communities is vital – current accessibility to information and, thus, participation, is limited.

 

Please act to

  • Give people multiple options to submit comments – including taking calls, text messages, tweets or Facebook comments or using apps

 

  • Create a public outreach program for families and children underrepresented and impacted communities to ensure they are meaningfully engaged earlier on in the process and intentionally added to the notification list

 

  • Ensure environmental justice specialists, community outreach specialists, and persons from various communities most impacted by regulatory decisions sit on all Regulatory Advisory Panels

 

Thank you for your good work.

Warmly,

Anne Stewart

CommentID: 99840
 

8/20/21  8:45 pm
Commenter: Zander Pellegrino

Public Engagement
 

As a member of the environmental advocacy community and engaged Virginia resident, I shared this comment period with friends and neighbors. We even hosted a comment writing party to share information about the scope of this comment period, the power and composition of the DEQ and boards and the difference between regulatory and permitting decision.

 

Many friends and attendees had impassioned and moving stories of environmental injustices in Virginia. They had ideas to move our state closer to meaningful public participation from their previous experiences (and sometimes lack of meaningful engagement) with VA’s environmental regulators. Other attendees’ ideas came only after building trust and sharing possibilities. They did not have preconceived notions for how to improve public participation but after small groups and hearing others’ stories, they felt comfortable making their voices heard.

 

What both of these groups had in common is that hardly anyone was signed up to be notified of periodic regulatory reviews on Town Hall. There were not aware of this process but they are certainly all impacted by it.

 

I share this because it illustrates a problem with our reality and hopefully can lead to a picture for our future. Decades of neoliberal policies like state retreat, privatization and defunding of environmental causes created a situation where us environmental advocates supplement government outreach processes. Holding comment parties on a fairly narrow periodic review is ok, but I want a future with more meaningful participation that can reach frontline communities.

 

I want to live in a state where Virginia regulators (like DEQ’s EJ Coordinators) held multilingual, well-advertised, well-funded and frequent community engagement events before this review was even initiated. This type of meaningful community engagement would allow people to think through the future they want, especially if they knew their voices and priorities would impact the regulations.

 

That said, there are some immediate things we can do. I fully endorse the technical suggestions in the EJ Collaborative Letter and feel strongly about the following specific points:

  • In notifications to community members, clearly state how their comments will be incorporated and how they will influence decisions.
  • Virginia communities that have been historically disinvested in, marginalized and discriminated against are also on the frontlines of both environmental disasters and government policies (for better or worse). The DEQ should maintain a list of frontline communities and residents who will be intentionally notified in advance of all regulatory changes.
  • Allow people to make comments in a variety of ways. In addition to the written options currently listed, it would be great if people could leave a voice message and have it be transcribed. At least one VA senator does this and even has a voicemail set up with hot button issues for residents to drive their messages to. Including comments from social media and apps is also an option.
  • Multi-lingual written notification materials and live translation at public hearings should be mandated and commonplace.
  • Community engagement is a technical skill. It should be included as an ‘expertise’ and represented on RAPs just like someone who is an expert in biodiversity or turbidity standards.
  • Residents from EJ communities and social justice groups should have representation on RAPs.
CommentID: 99847