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Virginia DEQ completes Environmental Justice Study

Virginia DEQThe Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and its consultants, Skeo Solutions, Inc. and Metropolitan Group, have concluded an 18-month process to create a comprehensive Environmental Justice Study.

First announced in April 2019, the study was initiated by DEQ to identify options and recommendations to inform a strategic approach focused on addressing environmental justice issues.

DEQ has summarized the immediate actions the agency will take to deliver on the Study recommendations, as well as the focus areas for the year ahead.

Study recommendations cover a number of categories that include authority, leadership, local government coordination, staff capacity, guidance and tools, accessible information, relationship building, community engagement and environmental justice community capacity.

While many recommendations will require additional resources, staffing or potentially new legislative authority for the agency, DEQ is moving forward with several significant measures.

DEQ will be creating a new Environmental Justice Director position that will lead the agency’s new Office of Environmental Justice. A key deliverable for this position will be to develop, with community input, an action plan that builds on the Study by creating an implementation strategy.

The hiring process for the Environmental Justice Director will begin immediately.

“No community, especially those historically marginalized and underrepresented, should face greater risk and impacts of pollution,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “The Northam Administration is taking the critical first steps in addressing environmental justice and existing inequities as we combat a changing climate and other threats to our environment. This study report provides a much needed framework for action, with recommendations for the Commonwealth that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is committed to following.”

“We are grateful to our consultants from Skeo Solutions and the Metropolitan Group and to everyone across Virginia – community members, stakeholders, industry and DEQ staff – who participated in this important effort,” said DEQ Director David Paylor. “While a lot of work has taken place, we realize we are still very much in the early phases. DEQ has outlined the agency’s next steps and we will make every available investment possible to ensure success, including the hiring of a new Environmental Justice Director. Our work to incorporate environmental justice into the things we do will be an ongoing process, one that is inclusive, collaborative and transparent by design.”

“This year has been an especially trying one for frontline communities and communities of color as they’ve borne the brunt of the Coronavirus pandemic and acts of racist violence,” said Executive Vice President of the Metropolitan Group Vernice Miller-Travis. “However, the Commonwealth of Virginia has decided that this would also be the year they would step up their efforts to address environmental justice concerns – first, with the legislative passage of the Virginia Environmental Justice Act (SB 1075) signed into law by Governor Northam, and now with the release of this Environmental Justice Study. It was an honor for our companies, Metropolitan Group and Skeo Solutions, to be selected by DEQ to undertake this study on their behalf, and we are grateful for the assistance of all the many stakeholders inside DEQ and across the Commonwealth who contributed their insights about how to advance environmental justice more effectively. We hope these recommendations will support efforts to ensure equal environmental protection for all.”

Informed by the best practices of similar government entities, the project team conducted more than 70 interviews with a wide cross-section of stakeholders and community members across Virginia, including representatives from environmental justice communities and organizations, environmental groups, regulated agriculture and industry, local government, environmental boards and DEQ staff.

Interviews focused on interviewees’ experiences with environmental justice and DEQ’s programs, strengths and weaknesses of related efforts in the Commonwealth, and recommendations for improvements.

The project team included an assessment of DEQ’s statutory authority across air, water and land programs and reviewed best practices in other states. A two-hour webinar was held in May that shared a summary of themes from the interviews in English and in Spanish and a follow-up survey provided additional opportunity to offer feedback.

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