[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

GLIN==> MDEQ Draft Public Involvement Document



From MDEQ Director Steve Chester.....

======


September 2, 2003



To All Interested Persons:

The Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) is seeking your comments on ways to improve public involvement in Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) activities.

The EAC was formed by DEQ Director Steven E. Chester in March 2003, to advise the DEQ on major issues affecting programs, policies, and operations.  The EAC membership is listed on the back of this letter.  Director Chester asked that, as our first order of business, we consider recommendations to improve public involvement within the DEQ. 

The attached DRAFT Recommendations are designed to ensure that the DEQ decision-making process fosters fairness and understanding, and that the public has the opportunity for a meaningful role in DEQ activities.  We have done our best to provide recommendations based on our own experiences with the DEQ, but it is important that a wider range of people affected by the DEQ also weigh in on how to improve public involvement. 

Therefore, we are requesting that all persons interested in DEQ programs and activities review these DRAFT Recommendations and provide their comments to us.  We will consider comments in developing the final recommendations that will be submitted to the DEQ.  The DEQ will respond with a plan for implementing our recommendations.  In reviewing these DRAFT Recommendations, please note that the EAC has not yet considered a recommendation concerning a formal public forum, such as a citizen oversight body on environmental issues. 

We will begin to consider public comments on our DRAFT Recommendations on
November 20, 2003.  Comments on the DRAFT Recommendations will be accepted through October 31, 2003, but we ask that you submit comments earlier if possible to facilitate our review. 

Comments can be sent via email to DEQ-EAC@michigan.gov, or in writing to
Mr. Frank Ruswick, EAC Facilitator, Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, MI 48909.

In the meantime, we are encouraging the DEQ to continue steps to improve public involvement and have asked the DEQ to consider how EAC Recommendations will be implemented. 

If you have any questions on the DRAFT Recommendations or the EAC, please contact
Mr. Ruswick, at 517-373-6093 or
ruswickf@michigan.gov
Thank you for your interest in the DEQ
  and a better Michigan,
 





The Environmental Advisory Council









ENVIRONMENTAL ADVISORY COUNCIL MEMBERSHIP

Ms. Chris Bates - General Motors Corporation
Mr. Skiles Boyd - Detroit Edison
Mr. Barry Cargill - Small Business Association of Michigan
Mr. Steven Chester - Department of Environmental Quality
Ms. Sally Churchill - University of Michigan
Mr. Wil Cwikiel - Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
Dr. Phillip Davis - Michigan State University
Ms. Marlene Fluharty - Americana Foundation
Mr. Charles Griffith - Ecology Center
Mr. Chuck Hersey - Southeast Michigan Council of Governments
Mr. Andrew Hobbs - Ford Motor Company
Mr. Don Inman - Michigan Resource Stewards
Mr. Patrick Krause - Environmental Health & Laboratory Services, Kalamazoo County
Ms. Sara Lile - City of Detroit
Mr. Steve List - Mead Westvaco
Mr. Frank Mortl - Michigan Oil and Gas Association
Mr. Cortland Overmyer - City of Grand Rapids
Ms. Lana Pollack - Michigan Environmental Council
Mr. Delbert Rector - NTH Consultants, Ltd.
Mr. Andrew Such - Michigan Chemistry Council
Ms. Maureen Kennedy Templeton - Grand Traverse County Drain Commissioner
Dr. Janet Vail - Grand Valley State University
Mr. Sam Washington - Michigan United Conservation Clubs
Mr. Wayne Wood - Michigan Farm Bureau
Mr. Paul Zugger - Public Sector Consultants
                        



DRAFT
Public Involvement in the DEQ
Recommendations from the Environmental Advisory Council
September 2, 2003


Introduction

Public involvement in governmental decision-making is a basic tenet of democracy.  The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should provide the opportunity for effective public involvement in DEQ activities.  Effective involvement only occurs when the public understands and has a meaningful role in shaping the decisions that will affect their quality of life. 

This document sets forth recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) to assist the DEQ in providing opportunities for effective public involvement.  The term “public” is used in its broadest sense to include anyone who may have an interest in, or be affected by, a DEQ program or decision. 


Principles of Effective Public Involvement

The EAC believes that effective involvement should be based on the following principles:
The decision-making process should foster fairness and understanding. 
It should be transparent, occurring in steps and in a time frame that is understood and predictable by involved parties.

The decision-maker should be readily identifiable before the decision is made.

Decisions should be based on the technical merits of a proposal and decision-making criteria established by law.

The basis for the decision should be available to the public, and the DEQ is accountable for the decision.
The public should have the opportunity for a meaningful role in the DEQ’s activities:
The public should be able to contribute to a decision on a proposed program or activity that could affect their quality of life.

Consistent with state law, the public should have access to information and the evaluation of information involved in the decision.

The DEQ should be able to explain its decision and how relevant and timely comments were considered in that decision, thereby, affording an involved participant the ability to ascertain that his or her interests were heard and considered.



Assessment
                
The EAC recognizes that the DEQ has an extensive public involvement program.  Much effort is focused on providing public involvement opportunities, and the DEQ undertakes a variety of mechanisms to facilitate public input into DEQ activities.  These mechanisms range from the extensive listing of pending DEQ decisions and public comment opportunities in the DEQ Calendar to extensive public outreach currently done on significant permit decisions in a variety of programs.  In addition, the DEQ has long involved affected interests in work groups and advisory committees during the formative stages of administrative rules packages and policy development.  DEQ staff are recognized for their personal commitment to responding to citizen concerns, answering questions, and following up on issues.

There are, however, opportunities for improvement.  Most environmental statutes provide for formal public involvement opportunities prior to a regulatory decision.  These opportunities often include a published notice of a proposed decision, a period for the public to submit comments, and a public meeting or hearing.  However, legal public notice of a pending decision may not be the most effective way of reaching the potentially affected or interested public.  Further, formal, statutorily required public involvement mechanisms are sometimes not adequate for significant or controversial decisions and need to be tailored accordingly.
 
In summary, the EAC views the DEQ as an agency that is committed to and values public involvement and one that can improve its public involvement techniques.  The recommendations contained in this document are designed to support and expand the DEQ’s efforts.  They are meant to further the opportunity for public participation as an element in the DEQ decision-making process and to foster a spirit of mutual trust, confidence, and openness between the DEQ and the public. 

Recommendations

 A.  The culture of public involvement
1.      The DEQ should enhance its efforts to train staff on how to work with the public, communication skills, conflict resolution, and public meeting facilitation.  The DEQ should also consider employing specialists who can bring experience and expertise to these activities.

2.      DEQ management should recognize the value of staff participation in a professional capacity as members of professional organizations and in environmental projects in their local communities.  Staff should also feel enabled to be visible in their community in a personal capacity, keeping in mind the need to avoid conflicts of interests or inappropriate use of authority through their affiliation with the DEQ.

3.      The DEQ should invest in developing and fostering awareness among its staff that there is value in bringing multiple perspectives to bear when examining an issue.

4.      The DEQ should encourage leadership development among its staff and foster interaction among emerging leaders in the DEQ and organizations involved in DEQ activities.

B.      Timing and opportunity

The DEQ undertakes a myriad of activities including promulgating administrative rules, issuing permits and other authorizations, providing education and training, conducting inspections, and undertaking enforcement actions to ensure compliance with legal requirements.  Even within a specific set of activities, such as issuing permits, defining characteristics can vary by program.  These characteristics include the number of applications received, the decision-making criteria, statutorily required procedures, the type of the technical information involved, the nature of public concern, and the environmental and program effects of the decision.  As a result, the following recommendations are necessarily general.  They are set forth as a template for DEQ program managers to use in evaluating the public involvement components of their programs and in identifying those areas that can be best addressed to most efficiently and effectively make improvements.
1.      Individual programs within the DEQ should review their decision-making processes to identify earlier opportunities for public involvement.  This could include the potential for earlier notification of pending actions-such as the receipt of permit applications-and encouraging applicants to voluntarily involve the public as early in the process as feasible.  The EAC recognizes
that such early involvement mechanisms will not be appropriate or necessary
for all decisions within a particular program.  Individual programs should develop criteria to identify the types of decisions for which such mechanisms are appropriate.

2.      The DEQ should notify the public of pending actions or activities early enough to obtain and evaluate information, formulate and express opinions, options and suggestions prior to DEQ action.

3.      The DEQ should review and improve its mechanisms for providing notice of pending decisions, including the feasibility of individual notice to citizens directly affected by significant site-specific permit decisions.
 
4.      DEQ program managers should strive to provide meaningful public involvement opportunities appropriate for each situation considering the issues, locations, potential environmental and human health implications, potential for controversy, specific needs of the public and the DEQ, and the time frame for decision-making.  For significant decisions, or when there is widespread public interest, the DEQ should use multiple approaches (e.g., meetings, hearings, workshops) for involving the public.  The common element should be interaction between DEQ staff and the affected public.

5.      The DEQ should provide policy, program, and technical information to the public at the earliest practicable times and throughout the decision-making process.  This information should be provided to enable potentially affected or interested persons to make informed and constructive contributions to decision-making.  The DEQ should cooperate with and support efforts to provide general training for citizens about how to participate in DEQ decision-making processes and basic primers on common permit-related issues such as those in the air and water quality programs.  The DEQ should also develop and implement mechanisms to more effectively convey information about specific proposals before the DEQ.  This information should include the facts of the proposal and the opportunities for individuals to participate in the decision-making process. 

6.      The DEQ should enhance coordination and communication with local units of government.  This could make efficient use of the resources of both the local unit of government and the DEQ in informing the public of proposals of local interest.  The DEQ should provide early informal notification of local officials of controversial projects.  Likewise, local government should be encouraged to provide early notice to the DEQ of projects that might be of interest to the DEQ.  The DEQ should look for opportunities to provide general education for local officials on environmental topics, such as through training seminars sponsored by governmental associations. 
 
7.      The Internet provides an excellent opportunity to improve public participation.  The DEQ should make its web page more user friendly so that people can find the information they need.  In addition, the web site should be organized to facilitate public involvement on pending proposals and decisions.  The DEQ should provide electronic forms on its website to allow the public to submit comments and observations for DEQ consideration/action.

8.      To further facilitate public understanding and involvement, the DEQ should expand and improve current programs that assist citizens to navigate the DEQ decision-making process.  While all DEQ employees have this responsibility to some extent, and should be responsive to citizens needing assistance, the DEQ should consider formalizing a citizen assistance function in some identifiable manner.  This could be analogous to the small business assistance function.

9.      The DEQ should ensure that all segments of the public have fair and appropriate access to decision-makers within the DEQ and that no member of the public is favored over another.

10.     The DEQ should inform concerned members of the public of the findings and rationale behind decisions.  The nature of how this information is provided can be tailored to the nature of the decision, and the number and identity of concerned parties.

11.     The DEQ should develop and implement a process for notifying the public of contested cases and proposed settlements in contested case proceedings.

C.      Implementation

The DEQ should report to the EAC on its activities in response to these recommendations within one year.

                                                



----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Alex J. Sagady & Associates        http://www.sagady.com

Environmental Enforcement, Permit/Technical Review, Public Policy,
Evidence Review and Litigation Investigation on Air, Water and
Waste/Community Environmental and Resource Protection
Prospectus at:  http://www.sagady.com/sagady.pdf

PO Box 39,  East Lansing, MI  48826-0039 
(517) 332-6971; (517) 332-8987 (fax); ajs@sagady.com
==========================================