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Public Comments -- Lenny Siegel

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Subject: Review of Public Participation

[Dear Ms. Dalton, Here are my comments on EPA's Review of Public Participation Policies. If you need me to submit a hard copy, please send me the address and mailing instructions - Lenny Siegel, 12/17/99]

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Review of EPA's Public Participation Policies. The 1981 policy, surprisingly enough, still serves as a strong, positive framework for those policies. It was ahead of its time.

Still, we have learned a great deal over the last 18-plus years, and there is room for improvement.

* First, the techniques and procedures required for assuring public participation in the development of national environmental policy are not the same as those necessary to involve the public in local or place-based activities such as permitting, remedy selection, and environmental assessment. To be sure there is overlap and there are many parallels, but I believe it would strengthen the policy if it organizationally recognized the differences. For example, it's important to provide travel assistance to unpaid members of national advisory groups. For local efforts, it's important to provide loaner documents because depository access is generally inadequate to allow members of the public to review large volumes.

* Perhaps the most daunting challenge in public participation is letting members of the public know which policies, documents, decisions, and activities are likely to affect them. I suggest an indexing system, in which members of the public can indicate a zip code or other local community identifier. For that location, EPA would identify actions and potential actions likely to affect the community.

* This place-based index could be easily implemented on the Worldwide Web, but it's important not too rely on the Internet as the sole means of providing any information to the public. Despite predictions of eventual universality, differences in economics, culture, and education still keep vast numbers of people off the Internet.

* Differential access to the Web is a reminder of one of the greatest lessons of the Environmental Justice movement: Communities are not equally equipped to participate effectively in environmental oversight. Some are empowered, educated, and wealthy. Others are not. Public participation policies should address that gap because it perpetuates the disproportionate negative impacts experienced by communities of color and low-income communities. EPA, in its policy, should draw upon the work of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) subcommittee, but it should go further. EPA and other agencies should offer more help - technical assistance, for example - to communities that need it most.

* Furthermore, EPA is not only directly involved in seeking public participation in activities that it organizes itself, but in those managed by other federal agencies - such as the Departments of Defense and Energy - and state, tribal and local governments. EPA's Public Participation policy should explain to EPA staff - and the public - how EPA will "export" its own principles of public participation to other activities in which it plays a subordinate role.

* Finally, the preamble to the new Policy should explain the benefits of public participation. Giving affected residents and businesses a seat at the table, early and throughout any decision-making process, not only reduces litigation and other adversarial behavior. It leads to better decisions. Even polluters benefit from engagement of the public in the practice of environmental oversight.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126

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