EPA Releases New Resource to Help States and Tribes Improve Water Quality Standard Public Hearings
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new resource to help states and tribes maximize participation, simplify implementation, and reduce costs associated with the public hearings they host for adopting new or revising existing water quality standards.
“Public participation is an important part of decision making on water quality standards,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “EPA’s new resource helps bring public engagement on water quality standards into the 21st century.”
The Clean Water Act requires states and authorized tribes to hold public hearings for the purposes of reviewing and adopting new or revised water quality standards (WQS). EPA’s new Modernizing Public Hearings for Water Quality Standard Decisions Consistent with 40 CFR 25.5 document outlines 12 suggestions for how states and tribes can incorporate technology into a public hearing in way that modernizes the process and is also consistent with meeting federal requirements. For example, the resource recommends using online public hearings via web conferencing. This approach facilitates greater public participation by saving participants’ time and money while also more effectively using public engagement resources (e.g., funding) of states and tribes.
The document also addresses potential environmental justice considerations. For example, the agency encourages states and tribes to meet the needs of their public by considering the public’s accessibility to, and acceptance of, computers and the internet before pursuing any specific approach.
The document does not impose any new requirements on states or tribes. It makes clear that states and tribes have the discretion to decide whether and to what extent to use technology in their WQS public hearings, as they deem appropriate.