Comment on Existing VA DEQ Public Participation Guidelines (9VAC15-11)
From: Katie Whitehead
Date: August 20, 2021
I have these suggestions:
Do more to engage the public and do it early in the process.
Help people understand what email lists they might want to sign up for to stay abreast of the regulations that concern them.
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.
Make public comments accessible to the public as they are submitted or shortly thereafter.
Index public comments; make them readily searchable.
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.
Define “environmental justice community.” Map environmental justice communities. Engage environmental justice communities, adapting outreach to actually reach people in language they understand.
Develop a relationship with communities. Develop two-way communication. This would likely require additional, dedicated staffing.
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.
Allow public comment to citizen boards on all regulations from the early stages of development.
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.
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.
Don’t rely on regulated industries to perform outreach or inform the public. Propaganda does not facilitate meaningful public engagement.
Hold meetings that are simultaneously in-person and virtual. If necessary, ask the legislature to rewrite FOIA regulations to allow hybrid meetings.