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Virginia DEQ announces new environmental justice office

Virginia DEQThe Virginia Department of Environmental Quality welcomed Renee Hoyos as director of the agency’s new environmental justice office on Thursday.

Hoyos, who has 14 years of experience as an environmental justice advocacy leader in Tennessee, will direct efforts on the continued development – with community and stakeholder input – of the environmental justice program at DEQ.

Prior to joining DEQ, Hoyos was the executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, an organization focused on identifying, preventing and remedying water pollution through civic engagement, partnership building, and advancing water policy. Before that she served in Governor Gray Davis’s Administration as special assistant to Secretary Mary D. Nichols for the California Natural Resources Agency, where she focused on watersheds and outreach.

Hoyos will be joined by Jerome Brooks, who has served DEQ for the last 15 years as manager of the office of water compliance and director of the office of air compliance coordination, respectively, in the Central Office. In addition to these responsibilities, Brooks has acted as the agency’s environmental justice coordinator for the past 13 years.

Last fall, Skeo Solutions, Inc., and Metropolitan Group completed a comprehensive Environmental Justice Study requested by DEQ. First announced in April 2019, these efforts identified options and recommendations to inform a strategic approach focused on environmental justice. To read the full Environmental Justice Study, as well as DEQ’s next steps, please visit DEQ’s website.

“The establishment of the new environmental justice office is the result of DEQ’s efforts to address environmental justice issues across the entirety of the agency’s programs,” said DEQ Director David Paylor. “This was a constructive collaboration between Governor Ralph Northam’s Administration, DEQ, our environmental partners, stakeholders and the public to develop recommendations to ensure that environmental justice is fully considered in the work of DEQ. We appreciate all who have offered input and support throughout this process. Renee is a welcome addition to the agency and the leadership team. We anticipate making great use of her and Jerome’s expertise and experience in the days and weeks ahead.”

Following Gov. Northam’s Executive Order 6, DEQ held a series of roundtable meetings with a broad cross section of stakeholders to identify concerns and gather feedback about how agency operations could improve. Many of the recommendations – including those focused on environmental justice – in the final Executive Order 6 Report are derived in part or in full from suggestions made during those meetings.

“I have worked closely with communities as an environmental leader in Tennessee and I am extremely pleased to bring my background and experience to DEQ and Virginia,” said DEQ Director of Environmental Justice Renee Hoyos. “The work of government can be a mystery to the lay person and, at times, discourage public participation. Throughout my career, I have worked with communities on the processes government agencies use to make environmental decisions. I’ve learned that decisions that impact communities benefit from early engagement of all parties, which creates a better project and a safer community. I look forward to getting to know community members and stakeholders across Virginia, as well as my new colleagues at DEQ.”

“I was introduced to the topic of environmental justice more than two decades ago at DEQ, but was first exposed to its realities very early in life,” said DEQ Environmental Justice Coordinator Jerome Brooks. “I have seen awareness of these issues and their impacts evolve in Virginia and beyond. Understanding it will take the efforts of many with diverse backgrounds and an intentional willingness to make positive change. I feel fortunate for the opportunity to provide my knowledge and experience in the environmental regulatory field – as well as my passion for environmental justice – to help make this program successful for DEQ and the Commonwealth.”

“EPA is very excited about the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality taking this important step towards integrating environmental justice into its programs,” said EPA Senior Policy Advisor for Environmental Justice Charles Lee. “These actions build on a nearly two-year effort involving engagement with Virginia communities and independent evaluation. We look forward to seeing the results of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s investment in improving public health and the environment.”

Hoyos is the former board president of the Clean Water Network, a national coalition of more than 1,200 public interest organizations representing five million people working to strengthen and implement federal clean water and wetlands policy. Hoyos was a founding board member of the Greater Knox County Black Chamber of Commerce and was secretary of the Community Health Alliance Board, a cooperative health care insurance company. Hoyos is a founding member of the McKnight Foundations Mississippi River Collaborative, a 14-state initiative to improve clean water regulations and improve water quality along the Mississippi River.

Hoyos received her Master of Avian Science and Master of Agriculture and Management from the University of California, Davis, and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts from San Francisco State University.

Brooks began his career as an environmental field inspector in DEQ’s Tidewater Regional Office and has remained a valuable member of DEQ for 24 years. His responsibilities as environmental justice coordinator included regular collaboration with citizens, non-government organizations, non-profits, other state agencies and the EPA on environmental justice concerns. He brings a wealth of agency knowledge, experience and exposure to DEQ’s new environmental justice office.

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