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After a year-long wait, Youngkin Administration releases guidance to include environmental justice in permits

Last week, the Youngkin administration released a draft of a new state air, land and water permitting process that incorporates environmental justice.

Nearly two years ago the Department of Environmental Quality formed the Environmental Justice Office in response to a new law and historic race-based practices in Virginia. And more recent ones like placement of a natural gas compressor station in the historic African American community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. And plans for county waterworks to be built on the 5,000-year old Monacan nation's capital, Rassawek.

Beth Roach is a member of the Nottoway Indian Tribe.
Pamela D'Angelo
Beth Roach is a member of the Nottoway Indian Tribe.

Beth Roach, a member of the Nottoway Indian Tribe, says its happened to them, twice. "A significant burial ground called Raccoon Island in the 80s was completely decimated by sand and gravel mining," Roach explains. "And then fast forward to the present there was a sand and gravel mining permit that indicated in their permit it’s likely the artifacts found are Nottoway. Yet, we were only clued in to this permit happening at a very late hour. Once you dig that up, it’s gone. Poof, it’s gone."

The guide is a first step for DEQ. The department doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the whopping 59 percent of Virginia residents identified as part of the environmental justice community along with processing a large number of permits.

Click here to read the draft

And they still have to negotiate with Tribes that want a formal role in the process so they can protect ancient sacred lands. "Burial grounds, village sites," Roach lists. "One, the reverence for the burial grounds, leave them there. But then two, with the village sites, if we don’t protect those then we’re losing so much of our memory and the opportunity to study that memory."

DEQ is taking public comment on the document until May 1.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.