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Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
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Department of Environmental Quality
 
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Department of Environmental Quality
 
chapter
Public Participation Guidelines [9 VAC 15 ‑ 11]
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8/14/21  4:19 pm
Commenter: Emily Little, RN

Public Engagement must be improved
 
I am Emily Little. I am a mother and a nurse.
 
People in the communities of Virginia consistently find out about permits when it is just about to be approved and who are scrambling not only to understand the health and environmental science of the proposed project but also to understand how to participate in your regulatory process.  I have witnessed this scramble and its related difficulties in Union Hill, Charles City County, Norfolk, Bent Mountain and in other rural communities along the now cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the still active Mountain Valley Pipeline.
 
These are people with children and jobs and lives that are full of trying to do what is best for themselves, for their children, and for their communities and then they are blind sided by big corporations who are being allowed to change their lives for the worse. 

Your public engagement is inadequate and often punishing and silencing and I am glad you are preparing to change that.  

Many needed changes come to mind, among them: give notice to and engage with directly impacted communities when the project is first proposed and before formal application is filed and not when the permit is finished; give notice that actually reaches the community; institute forums where questions can be asked and answered by those wielding permit power; hold public hearings on permits in the directly impacted communities earlier in the process and with both in person and hybrid opportunities; hold public hearings when accessible to full time workers; give more advance notice of when public hearings will be held; allow citizens access to Citizen Boards that does not go through and is not edited by the DEQ, allow citizens to register to speak at public hearings in advance and in person day of; hold public hearings in public or citizen sponsored venues and not in private hotels.  And yeah, don’t march armed police around the edges of hearing rooms while citizens are speaking.

DEQ’s 2020 Environmental Justice Report from Skeo Consultants is a good resource as you seek better and more public engagement.  I recommend it to you as a guide for future policy and action. Four of the nine action items recommended by the report outline and give vast resources for and examples of better public engagement.*

*In brief those four action items re public engagement from the Skeo report are: 

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

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

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

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

Here is the link to the Skeo report:  https://www.deq.virginia.gov/home/showdocument?id=8624

 Emily Little, RN 

CommentID: 99733