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RICHMOND—Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler today released the final report to Governor Ralph S. Northam on recommended actions for enhancing protection of air, water, and public health in Virginia, as required under Executive Order Number Six. Governor Northam signed Executive Order Six in April 2018, which directed the Department of Environmental Quality to update outdated regulations, strengthen enforcement of Virginia’s environmental standards, identify the causes of permitting delays, and improve transparency.
The executive order instructed DEQ, in consultation with the Secretary of Natural Resources, to conduct a comprehensive review of permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities in the Commonwealth. The executive order also required DEQ to evaluate proposed federal actions to ensure any potential rollback does not affect DEQ’s existing authority to protect public health, drinking water supplies, and the environment. Finally, the executive order directed DEQ to work with stakeholders to improve agency communications and incorporate environmental justice considerations into DEQ operations.
“The environment belongs to all of us, and my administration will continue to work to ensure that our environmental policy provides equal protection for all Virginians and promotes sound stewardship of our air, water, and public lands,” said Governor Northam. “With strong, responsive, and targeted programs and initiatives, the Commonwealth will be better positioned to protect our natural resources and public health and sustain a vibrant Virginia economy now and into the future.”
The recommendations in the report establish a roadmap for a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable Virginia. Key recommendations include improving water supply and air quality monitoring, measures to hold polluters accountable, and a focus on environmental justice and public engagement. The full report and recommendations is available here.
“Until now, no governor has conducted a thorough assessment of what DEQ needs to do its job,” said Secretary Strickler. “This report is the result of a year of thorough collaboration between the Northam Administration, DEQ, environmental partners, and other stakeholders to develop recommendations to revitalize Virginia’s flagship environmental agency. We will continue this collaboration as we act on recommendations in this report and will use DEQ’s authority under Virginia law to guard against the dismantling of important environmental protections by the federal government.”
The report highlights progress to date on ongoing initiatives and provides recommendations for additional action that include funding needs and additional requests for authorities raised during stakeholder engagement.
“Over the past 10 years, DEQ’s budget has been cut by approximately $60 million and our staff has been reduced by 30 percent," said DEQ Director David Paylor. “I am proud of the way DEQ staff has continued to successfully focus on our core mission. Despite our ongoing challenges, we have much progress to celebrate—the Chesapeake Bay restoration, improved recycling rates, fewer bad ozone days, and repaired waters and streams. We are optimistic that this effort can lay the foundation for enhanced and modernized operations, automated services and stronger outreach efforts to better engage with partners, stakeholders and the public. It will take time, and collaboration with the General Assembly, to act on these recommendations, but we look forward to getting started.”
As stated in this report, while the recommendations do not address every funding need or request for authority identified by DEQ, it is a critical assessment of necessary steps to help advance DEQ’s mission and most importantly to revitalize and modernize DEQ in a way that will meet Governor Northam’s stated objectives.
“It is exciting to see such a comprehensive report with strong steps,” said Beth Roach, Tribal Councilwoman and Chair of the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice. “Nyawe to the Northam Administration and the Secretary for this work. It provides our Commonwealth with a better path forward. We would very much appreciate continuing to see a number of the Council’s recommendations being a part of this work and prioritizing the voices of the environmental justice community at large as we move forward. There is still a lot of work to do.”
“The recommendation to improve community based monitoring supports the recommendation from the Advisory Council on Environmental Justice to explore hot spots in the state and develop better strategies to better identify and address hot spot issues like asthma,” said Dr. Janet Phoenix, Vice Chair of the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice.
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