I am a resident of Virginia concerned, as we all are, about clean air, clean water, a safe environment and a thriving ecosystem, but think about them typically only when there is an immediate concern or threat.
When that concern or threat is coming from an activity that the State Water Board has regulatory authority over, we need to be assured that the timeline for a community to respond is adequate to the scale of the impact. I feel that this has not been the case, and that increasing the time and mechanisms for public input be revised to be broader.
As far as notifying the public, I would suggest that you consider using the notification mechanisms by which we are billed for water. This is a time when a household is thinking about their own water supply and might be primed to consider other related issues. While I get my water bill from the Town of Vienna, and annually a water quality report, I would find it perfectly fitting to also get a DEQ State Water Board notification of activities.
Thank you for considering my comments.
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:
A few years ago, I heard residents of Union Hill talk about the noise pollution, air and water pollution, environmental destruction and inherent danger of living in the vicinity of a compressor station that was scheduled to be built in their town, I saw environmental INJUSTICE at work. This inspired me to lend my voice in areas where community feedback is being sought.
In order to ensure that vulnerable communities which are at the greatest risk of climate change impacts, positioning of dangerous, noisy and polluting fossil fuel facilities, and pollution exposure, the Water Control Board MUST improve its Public Participation Guidelines to be more inclusive. Here are some suggestions:
Thank you for allowing our statements to be heard. We are heartened that an Environmental Justice office will be added to the process of deciding about projects that impact the environment thereby our health and happiness. More importantly, that the DEQ is committed to transparency and inclusiveness moving forward. To really get public input, you must make sure the meetings are held during times that community members can attend and make public when those meetings are - and allow for various ways for people to participate, e.g., facilitate meaningful participation in all relevant languages, take public comment online, hold meetings that are accessible to public transporation, make sure you are seeking diverse voices to be included in studies, presentations, and impacted communities have a voice in the process.
Moving forward, we must make sure that public participation is accessible, inclusive and meaningful in order to ensure environmental justice for all Virginians.
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.
First, all Water Board members must be training in Environmental Justice and how to receive and process comments to avoid violating rights and breaking the law.
Second, the public participation process is broken. 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.
To the Virginia State Water 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.
Food & Water Watch
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. My suggestions for improving the public participation guidelines for the regulatory processes of the State Water Control Board (9 VAC 20-11) 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,
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
Thank you for your good work.
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: