Public Participation - EPA Descriptions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- is obligated by law to involve the public in some of its processes. There may be some differences in how the EPA treats public involvement in its different programs. The three main programs addressed here are Superfund sites, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sites and Brownfields.

Superfund - The EPA is especially concerned about having the community involved in the clean-up of a contaminated superfund site. The EPA has a policy of public involvement that proposes to commit the EPA to early, meaningful public involvement, ensure decisions are made with an understanding of the concerns of people affected, promote techniques that increase opportunities for public involvement, and establish clear procedures for conducting public involvement in EPA decision-making.

RCRA - The EPA also established rules for public participation under RCRA. These rules recommend involving the public early during permitting, increasing opportunities for public participation, increasing access to information, and providing guidance to facilities to increase public participation. RCRA requires informal public meetings, formal notices of permit application, information repositories (libraries) and notice of test burns at incinerators.

Brownfields - Often communities participate in the redevelopment of a brownfield site through a community redevelopment corporation (CRC). To be successful, a CRC may need to find funding, have access to government resources to facilitate the redevelopment effort. New CRCs can begin a network through Chambers of Commerce or other business-focused organizations to begin the effort.

In addition, the EPA developed specific categories of stakeholders that include the areas of Outreach, Information Exchange, Recommendations and Agreements.

Outreach includes basic communication within the community and between the EPA and the community. It helps the EPA to know who in the community is interested and involved so announcements can be shared more broadly.

Information exchange is when various "sides" share important viewpoints and concerns with each other. Exchanging information is not a debate or decision-making process. Information can be exchanged in formal EPA-recognized venues such as public meetings and public hearings. Roundtable discussions and workshops can also be used.

Recommendations are general agreements that stakeholders present for further consideration by the EPA. Recommendations are not binding, but are given serious consideration in the decision-making process.

Agreements are clearly negotiated and decided by consensus of the stakeholders. Agreements can often be enforceable.

The EPA has three specialized meeting types. The three types include Public Meetings, Public Hearings, and Community Advisory Groups (CAG)

Public Meetings - A public meeting is the least formal meeting type and provides a forum for an agency to answer questions of the public. It is for discussion not for decision-making.

  • Public meetings can be called by a community group.
  • Set objectives, expectations and desired results.
  • Consider using a facilitator if there is controversy.
  • Schedule a convenient location for the meeting.
  • Announce the meeting 30 days in advance.

Public Hearings - A public hearing is required by a regulation for the public to comment and testify on legislation or agency action.

Community Advisory Groups (CAG)

  • A CAG is an EPA designed program that creates a mechanism for the public to participate in decision-making about Superfund sites. The focus of CAGs is on minority and low-income populations.
  • While the EPA makes the final decision, the CAG can represent the community to the EPA so the EPA will seriously consider community preferences for site cleanup and remediation.

Citizens' history of involvement with the EPA can range from very positive to extremely negative. Therefore, the EPA hopes to be more consistent in the quality and type of public involvement opportunities through training and supporting EPQ employees. In addition, it is evaluating its progress in meeting the public's need for involvement.

In January 2002, the EPA developed recommendations for implementing public involvement. The recommendations are in a document can be found at the EPA website.

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