Northam signs order to improve state air, water and public health

Governor Ralph Northam yesterday (Wednesday) signed Executive Order 6, which instructs the Department of Environmental Quality to update outdated regulations, strengthen enforcement of Virginia’s environmental standards, identify the causes of permitting delays, and improve transparency.

The governor’s office calls this order is the first step in the process of reinforcing the importance of a state agency that has seen its staff cut by 30 percent and its budget cut by nearly $60 million over the past decade.

“I am proud to take executive action to safeguard Virginia’s environment and improve the quality of life of all Virginians,” said Northam. “DEQ has protected our air, water, and land for 25 years, and we must ensure that the agency has the resources it needs to continue to protect our natural resources from pollution.

“This executive order will strengthen DEQ and give the public servants who work there greater ability to protect public health and our natural resources while empowering Virginia’s good corporate stewards and promoting a vibrant economy.”

The order requires DEQ, in consultation with the Secretary of Natural Resources, to perform a comprehensive review of DEQ’s permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities across all program areas and provide a full report to the governor by April 30, 2019.

The executive action also requires DEQ to ensure that any proposed federal actions do not affect DEQ’s existing authority to protect public health, drinking water supplies, and the environment.

Among its many core duties, DEQ is responsible for improving air quality, upholding water quality standards, protecting vital wetlands, reducing nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, and requiring proper treatment of solid waste and hazardous waste across the Commonwealth.

“True to his word, Governor Northam is showing a solid commitment to protect Virginians’ health from pollution of our air, water and land. His order will strengthen the Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to safeguard and enhance Virginians’ lives in a transparent way that’s good for everyone, and we applaud the governor in his efforts,” said Walton Shepherd, Virginia Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Added Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters: “Virginia faces unprecedented threats to our environment, both with the dismantling of protections at the federal level and several, pressing issues here in the Commonwealth that threaten clean air, water resources, and open spaces. Governor Northam’s executive order to strengthen his Department of Environmental Quality is a good first step in protecting our water, air and land from harmful pollution.”

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