EPA Rules Increase Public Role in Environmental Programs

[EPA press release - February 23, 1979]

The Environmental Protection Agency has revised its public participation regulations to provide more effective public involvement in planning and carrying out water pollution control, solid waste management, and drinking water programs.

One revised rule is intended to encourage and assist public participation generally in all programs under the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. A companion rule establishes more specific requirements to promote public involvement in sewage projects built under the Clean Water Act's multi-billion dollar municipal grants program administered by EPA.

Thomas C. Jorling, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water and Waste Management, said "These regulations express the commitment of EPA to give citizens a great voice and more active role in shaping policy, regulations and activities relating to water pollution abatement, solid waste management, and drinking water protection." The Agency's action caps a year-long effort by an EPA task force established by Jorling to review and revise existing regulations to improve public participation.

"These regulations will enable citizens to better understand and exercise their right of access to EPA's decision-making process in programs under the three Acts," Jorling said. "I am hopeful that they will expand the dialogue between government and the public. Such dialogue can only improve the quality and practicality of our programs and lead to a cleaner environment."

As an example of measures in the general regulation to improve public participation, the advance notice of public hearings has been increased from 30 to 45 days. The companion rules on public participation in sewage projects require the establishment of public advisory groups for certain sewage projects having a significant impact on communities. They also require government agencies to respond formally to questions and issues by the public at particularly significant stages in planning for construction of EPA-funded sewage treatment projects. The government responses will also show how public involvement affected the decision-making process.

Jorling noted that early participation by the public in the planning of a sewage project can cut the ultimate cost to the Federal government and local taxpayers. Public concerns can be addressed and resolved early, thereby reducing planning costs and avoiding later inflationary delays. Similarly, public involvement in planning the financial arrangements for operating and maintaining a new sewage system can help t ensure that such arrangements are satisfactory to local taxpayers.

The new rules appeared in the February 16, 1979 Federal Register. Copies may be obtained from EPA's Regional offices.