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DEQ releases draft environmental justice guidance – comments due by May 1

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has released draft guidance, Environmental Justice in the Permitting Process, for an informal comment period. This guidance creates procedures to ensure fair treatment of, and meaningful involvement with environmental justice (EJ) communities, throughout DEQ’s permitting processes. Per the Virginia Environmental Justice Act an EJ community “…  means any low-income community or community of color” as per these definitions:

“Low-income community” means any census block group in which 30 percent or more of the population is composed of people with low income.

“Low income” means having an annual household income equal to or less than the greater of (i) an amount equal to 80 percent of the median income of the area in which the household is located, as reported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and (ii) 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

“Community of color” means any geographically distinct area where the population of color, expressed as a percentage of the total population of such area, is higher than the population of color in the Commonwealth expressed as a percentage of the total population of the Commonwealth. However, if a community of color is composed primarily of one of the groups listed in the definition of “population of color,” the percentage population of such group in the Commonwealth shall be used instead of the percentage population of color in the Commonwealth.

These definitions result in 53% of the total geographic area and 59% of the population of the Commonwealth being identified as an EJ community (see MAP)

The guidance outlines a permit evaluation process for all permitting actions at DEQ, as well as establishes processes for further evaluation of permits of particular concern to environmental justice communities.

DEQ is accepting informal public comments on the guidance until May 1. A formal public comment period will be held after internal review. Comments on the guidance are to be submitted via email to 

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP

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