Sweeping “Environmental Justice” legislation introduced in the House

January 19, 2021

Sweeping “Environmental Justice” legislation has been introduced in the House by Delegate Shelly Simonds.  HB 2074 (Simonds) proposes a wide array of initiatives and strategies for state and local governments.

At the local level, there are several proposals, most notably pertaining to permitting processes and comprehensive plan reviews.

Permitting
HB 2074 prohibits a permit for “any covered activity” from being issued unless the applicant and permitting authority have complied with a number of requirements. No permit shall be issued until the applicant has submitted and the permitting authority has approved a public involvement plan, a cumulative impact statement, and an environmental justice impact statement, if applicable.

Per the proposed legislation, “covered activity” means the construction, expansion, or operation of a facility that comprises a (i) fossil fuel-fired electric generating facility with a capacity of more than 25 megawatts; (ii) sludge or solid waste incinerator or combustor; (iii) sewage treatment plant with a capacity of more than 50 million gallons per day; (iv) recycling facility serving multiple localities, intermediate processing center, or volume reduction facility with a combined monthly volume in excess of 25 tons; (v) sanitary landfill, including a sanitary landfill that contains ash, construction or demolition debris, or solid waste; (vi) medical waste incinerator; (vii) major source of air pollution, as defined by the federal Clean Air Act, including a renewal of an existing facility’s major source permit; (viii) fossil fuel-fired compressor station facility used to transport natural gas; (ix) underground or surface coal mine or mineral mine, including a renewal of an existing facility’s permit; or (x) methane capture facility.

When it comes to the “cumulative impact” this section (as well as the bill’s other provisions) seeks to address, VACo is also concerned with how broadly the concept is defined.  Per the bill’s proposed language, cumulative impact is defined as “the impact on human health or the environment that results from the incremental impact of a covered agency action when added to the effects of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions, regardless of what agency or person undertakes such other actions. [It] can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time.”

Comprehensive Plans
In addition to the aforementioned permitting requirements, HB 2074 also requires localities, during each review of its comprehensive plan, to include an environmental justice strategy.  Such a strategy shall (1) identify each environmental justice community and fenceline community within the locality; (2) identify objectives and policies to reduce the unique or compounded health risks in each environmental justice community or fenceline community by means that include the reduction of pollution exposure, including the improvement of air quality, and the promotion of public facilities, food access, broadband Internet access, safe and sanitary dwellings, and physical activity; (3) identify objectives and policies to promote public involvement by residents of each environmental justice community or fenceline community in the public decision-making process; and (4) identify objectives and policies that prioritize improvements and programs that address the needs of environmental justice communities and fenceline communities.

Next Steps
VACo members are encouraged to read the language of HB 2074 and reach out to VACo staff with their thoughts and concerns.  VACo will continue to monitor this bill and report on it as it develops.

VACo Contacts: Chris McDonald, Esq. and Joe Lerch, AICP

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