By Bill Arnold
Source: USEPA website (www.epa.gov)
in search box enter: RCRA public participation
EPA uses the term “public participation” to denote the activities where permitting agencies (DEC/DOH) and permittees (facility/FMC):
- encourage public input and feedback
- conduct a dialogue with the public
- provide access to decision-makers
- assimilate public viewpoints and preferences
- demonstrate that those viewpoints and preferences have been considered by the decision makers
Public participation is a dialogue.Reasons why:
- Facilities and permitting agencies are required to conduct public participation activities under the RCRA Act and its implementing regulations
- Permitting agencies are charged with making many controversial decisions, which should not be made by technical expertise alone.
- Community members have a right to be heard and to expect government agencies to be open and responsive.
- Public input can help agencies reach better technical solutions and make better policy decisions.
- RCRA actions are more likely to be accepted and supported by community members
State agencies can be more restrictive but cannot be less restrictive than EPA regulations.The Public Participation TriangleA vital and successful public participation program requires a dialogue, not amonologue.Information must flow in loops between any two stakeholder groups.The regulators should not just release information to the facility owner/operator, who passes it to the community, who then contacts the regulators. The regulator should make the information available to everyoneand ask for feedback.Each corner of the triangle must keep the two-way conversation going with thetwo remaining corners.
- Fact sheets alone do not constitute public participation.
- Each stakeholder should have a contact person.
- Being honest and open is the best way to earn trust and credibility with the other stakeholders in the process.
- By law, permitting agencies must consider all significant written comments
- submitted during a formal comment period.
- The Public has an opportunity to appeal agency decisions.
- EPA acknowledges that people residing a significant distance from the facility may have legitimate and important concerns, but EPA thinks it is reasonable to focus limited public participation resources on communities with direct interests.
- Community members should suggest public participation activities, meeting locations, or means of communication that will work well in their community
Agencies Public Participation PlanThe public participation plan is the agency’s schedule and strategy for public participation. The agency should draft a plan addressing public participation activities throughout the process.To identify activities for the public participation program, the agency should go through the following steps:1. List the major community issues and concerns.2. List the community characteristics that will have a bearing on how you address these issues.3. List the activities that will address the community’s concerns during the permitting process and, if applicable, corrective action.Once the agency has outlined activities for the facility, it should put together astrategy for implementing the activities which include:
- Interacting with the media, especially on high-profile facilities.
- Interacting with elected officials.
- Answering telephone and written inquiries.
- Coordinating public participation with other stakeholders.
- Maintaining the mailing list and information repositories.
- Planning and conducting public meetings.
- Handling production/distribution/placement of information, including fact sheets, public notices, news releases, meeting handouts and overheads, etc.
Agencies Formal Participation PlanEPA recommends a formal plan contain the following sections:- executive summary- introduction/overview- facility history- the RCRA action taking place- summary of community interviews, outlining concerns- a description of any early consultation (e.g., interviews with groupleaders) that led to development of the plan- a list of the major issues likely to emerge during the process- an estimation of the level of public interest likely to be generated bythe decision under consideration- public participation activities and schedule- a list of the agencies, groups, and key individuals most likely to beinterested in the process- a list of key contacts- information on meeting and repository locations, where applicable.Establishing Trust with the Community1. Remember the factors that are necessary for establishing trust --consistency, competence, care, and honor.2. Encourage meaningful involvement by other stakeholders.3. Pay attention to process.4. Explain the process and eliminate any mystery.5. Be forthcoming with information and involve the public from the outset.6. Focus on building trust as well as generating good data.7. Follow up. Get back to people. Fulfill your obligations.8. Make only promises that you can keep.9. Provide information that meets people’s needs.10. Get the facts straight.11. Coordinate within your organization.12. Don’t give mixed messages.13. Listen to what other stakeholders are telling you.14. Enlist the help of organizations that have credibility with communities.15. Avoid secret meetings.Stakeholders (Citizens)
- Strive to respect other stakeholders and their opinions. Avoid personal attacks.
- Understand that people have different levels of understanding. Not everyone is an expert, but everyone should have the chance to know all the facts.
- Realize that decisions made during the permitting process can have profound economic and social impacts. These decisions are very real and important; people will live and work with them every day.
- Acknowledge that statutory and regulatory requirements limit what can happen during the permitting process.
- Remember that everyone - citizens, regulators, facility owners/operators, and public interest workers -- has resource and time constraints
- Recognize that people have concerns that go beyond the scientific or technical details. These concerns deserve respect.
- Build your credibility by being fair, open, and respectful.
- Try to understand the values and interests of other stakeholders before jumping to conclusions.
Is It Working?The following are indicators that a public participation program is working:
- stakeholders are not asking the same questions over and over again
- stakeholders are not raising concerns about a lack of information
- the appropriate contact person is handling inquiries in a timely manner
- most of the public participation time is not devoted to correcting breakdowns
- in the information-sharing triangle (see above) between the community, the agency, and the facility
- the channels of communication are well-defined and open
- interested parties are providing informed comments on the project
- members of the public are bringing their concerns to stakeholders that are actively involved in the process, rather than taking them directly to the press or elected officials
- Creative, more flexible, technical solutions are being explored.
Another Item:On February 11, 1994, the President issued Executive Order 12898, directing federal agencies to identify and address the environmental concerns and issues of minority and low-income communities. In an effort to make environmental justice an integral part of the way we do business, the Agency issued a policy directive, in September 1994 (OSWER 9200.3-17), that requires all future EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) policy and guidance documents to consider environmental justice issues.Recommendations
- Create a better dialog with the agencies.
- Establish a contact personal with the DEC, DOH and EPA.
- Get an answer to Sen. Maziarz’s question on why Albany is the handling this project not the local group (Region 9) in Buffalo.
- Have the agencies present their participation plan.