[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 90 (Thursday, May 9, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 27220-27233]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-10945]


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ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

[Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2012-0452; FRL-9811-1]


EPA Activities To Promote Environmental Justice in the Permit 
Application Process

AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

ACTION: Notice of availability of regional actions to promote public 
participation in the permitting process and promising practices for 
permit applicants seeking EPA-issued permits.

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SUMMARY: As part of its ongoing efforts under Plan EJ 2014 to integrate 
environmental justice into all of its programs, the Environmental 
Protection Agency (EPA) is publishing Actions that EPA Regional Offices 
Are Taking to Promote Meaningful Engagement in the Permitting Process 
by Overburdened Communities and Promising Practices for Permit 
Applicants Seeking EPA-Issued Permits: Ways to Engage Neighboring 
Communities. This notice responds to comments on the proposals issued 
for public comment in June 2012. These documents reflect suggestions 
and input received by EPA from numerous stakeholders. This notice 
describes actions that EPA regional offices are taking when issuing EPA 
permits to promote greater participation in the permitting process by 
communities that have historically been underrepresented in that 
process. This notice also describes promising practices for permit 
applicants that are designed to encourage and assist permit applicants 
to reach out to neighboring communities when applying for permits that 
may affect communities' quality of life, including their health and 
environment.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For more information on this Federal 
Register notice, contact Shani Harmon, Office of Air and Radiation, 
Mail Code 6102A, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 
Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20460, (202) 564-1617, 
ejpermitting@epa.gov.

Table of Contents

I. General Information
II. Overview
III. Actions That EPA Regional Offices Are Taking To Promote 
Meaningful Engagement in the Permitting Process by Overburdened 
Communities (``EPA Actions'')
IV. Promising Practices for Permit Applicants Seeking EPA-Issued 
Permits: Ways To Engage Neighboring Communities (``Promising 
Practices'')
V. Conclusion

I. General Information

    Expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for 
environmental justice are top priorities of the Environmental 
Protection Agency (EPA). In 2011, EPA published Plan EJ 2014, the 
Agency's overarching strategy for advancing environmental justice. The 
Plan has three goals:
    1. Protect health and the environment in overburdened communities;
    2. Empower communities to take action to improve their health and 
environment; and
    3. Establish partnerships with local, state, tribal, and federal 
governments and organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable 
communities.
    The year 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of 
Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice 
in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. That Executive 
Order directs each covered federal agency to ``make achieving 
environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and 
addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human 
health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and 
activities.'' Plan EJ 2014 is EPA's roadmap for integrating 
environmental justice into its programs, policies and activities. One 
focus area of the Plan is ``Considering Environmental Justice in 
Permitting.'' Environmental permits often contain measures to mitigate 
pollution from a source. Therefore, environmental permits play a key 
role in providing effective protection of public health and the 
environment in communities. For this reason, Plan EJ 2014 calls upon 
EPA to: (1) Enhance the ability of overburdened communities to 
participate fully and meaningfully in the permitting process for EPA-
issued permits; and (2) take steps to meaningfully address 
environmental justice issues in the permitting process for EPA-issued 
permits to the greatest extent practicable.
    In this notice, EPA focuses on enhancing the opportunity and 
ability of overburdened communities to participate in the permitting 
process. Plan EJ 2014 uses the term ``overburdened'' to describe the 
minority, low-income, tribal and indigenous populations or communities 
in the United States that potentially experience disproportionate 
environmental harms and risks due to exposures or cumulative impacts or 
greater vulnerability to environmental hazards. This increased 
vulnerability may be attributable to an accumulation of both negative 
and lack of positive environmental, health, economic, or social 
conditions within these populations or communities. EPA believes that 
the participation of overburdened communities in EPA's permitting 
process is an important step toward the ultimate goal of promoting 
environmental justice through the permitting process. EPA realizes that 
enhanced public engagement is only one aspect of addressing 
environmental justice in the context of permitting. As part of the Plan 
EJ 2014 initiative, EPA also intends to enhance its analysis of 
environmental justice impacts associated with permits and identify 
additional measures that can be

[[Page 27221]]

incorporated into permits to address environmental justice issues.
    Following the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council 
(NEJAC) recommendation to encourage more public participation in the 
permitting decision-making process, EPA has identified actions that EPA 
and permit applicants, both for new and renewed permits, can take to 
reduce barriers to participation in the permitting process. In 
overburdened communities, these barriers can include lack of trust, 
lack of awareness or information, lack of ability to participate in 
traditional public outreach opportunities, language barriers, and 
limited access to technical and legal resources. More transparency and 
dialogue can to lead to more meaningful engagement of overburdened 
communities in the permitting process. More meaningful engagement, in 
turn, can lead to better permit outcomes for communities as well as 
permit applicants.
    Both EPA regional offices and permit applicants can--and in some 
cases already do--bring overburdened communities into the permitting 
process through special outreach efforts. To learn more about how EPA 
and permit applicants can involve overburdened communities in the 
permitting process for EPA-issued permits, EPA launched an extensive 
outreach effort to solicit diverse stakeholder views. EPA conducted 
numerous listening sessions, conference calls and meetings with a 
variety of stakeholders, including environmental justice stakeholders, 
members of the business community, state, local and tribal governments 
and communities, non-governmental organizations, and the NEJAC, to 
gather input on how to enhance participation of overburdened 
communities in EPA's process of issuing permits. EPA also surveyed its 
regional offices, where EPA permitting activity predominantly occurs, 
to determine what steps are currently being taken or could be taken to 
meaningfully involve overburdened communities in the permitting 
process. On June 26, 2012, EPA proposed Actions that EPA Regional 
Offices Are Taking to Promote Meaningful Engagement in the Permitting 
Process by Overburdened Communities and Draft Best Practices for Permit 
Applicants Seeking EPA-Issued Permits: Ways to Engage Neighboring 
Communities (77 FR 38051).
    In addition to soliciting comment on these ideas (Docket Number 
EPA-HQ-OAR-2012-0452), EPA continued its collaboration and dialogue 
with stakeholders to obtain feedback on its proposals. EPA hosted 
several informational calls with stakeholders to explain the proposals, 
answer any questions, and gather input on the content of its proposals. 
Under the EPA Policy on Consultation and Coordination with Indian 
Tribes, EPA conducted a national consultation with federally recognized 
tribes. EPA also presented its proposed ideas during the NEJAC's public 
meeting on July 24-25, 2012. Listening sessions, dialogues and numerous 
comments provided invaluable stakeholder feedback from communities, 
states, municipalities, tribes, businesses, environmental groups, trade 
associations, and federal advisory committees.
    EPA appreciates the commitment of time and resources from the 
numerous stakeholders who provided feedback. EPA has considered all the 
comments and questions it received. EPA has revised the draft proposals 
and is now issuing two documents. The first is Actions that EPA 
Regional Offices Are Taking to Promote Meaningful Engagement in the 
Permitting Process by Overburdened Communities (hereafter referred to 
as ``EPA Actions''). The second document is Promising Practices for 
Permit Applicants Seeking EPA-Issued Permits: Ways to Engage 
Neighboring Communities (hereafter referred to as ``Promising 
Practices''). In today's notice, EPA incorporates some suggestions and 
addresses several issues raised during public outreach on the 
proposals. In addition, EPA has provided a Frequently Asked Questions 
document responding to many of the questions and issues raised in 
public engagement. The Frequently Asked Questions document is available 
at http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/plan-ej/permitting.html. EPA 
expects to revise that document over time.

II. Overview

    Executive Order 12898 and Plan EJ 2014 direct EPA to make achieving 
environmental justice part of its mission and to be a leader among 
federal departments and agencies in addressing the impacts of federal 
activities on overburdened communities. EPA believes that EPA's 
permitting process presents opportunities to address environmental 
justice. EPA further believes that it has the responsibility to lead by 
example by addressing environmental justice in its permits. Therefore, 
the actions described in this notice focus exclusively on EPA-issued 
permits.
    Several commenters asked whether EPA Actions and Promising 
Practices change existing regulations and guidance addressing public 
participation in the permitting process. The answer is no. Although EPA 
expects these two documents to aid EPA in its implementation of 
Executive Order 12898 with regard to permitting, EPA Actions and 
Promising Practices are not an interpretation of environmental 
statutes, nor do they add to or change interpretations of statutory 
obligations regarding permitting contained in existing regulations. 
They create no legal obligations and in no way change the legal 
landscape of the EPA permitting process. To the contrary, the only 
legal requirements applicable to EPA regional offices and permit 
applicants throughout the permitting process are those contained in the 
EPA's environmental statutes, implementing regulations, the 
Administrative Procedure Act, applicable anti-discrimination laws and 
other applicable statutes and regulations.
    EPA is issuing EPA Actions to encourage more transparency and 
consistency in EPA's permitting process with the goal of increasing 
meaningful engagement of overburdened communities in that process. As 
some commenters noted, EPA already has a legal obligation to provide 
opportunities for public involvement in the permitting process. EPA 
believes, however, that in some circumstances it is appropriate to go 
beyond the minimum public involvement requirements of statutes and 
regulations to encourage the participation of communities that will be 
significantly impacted by a permit but that have historically been 
underrepresented in the permitting process.
    Further, though EPA has discretion to increase the level of public 
outreach it makes to communities beyond the requirements found in 
statutes and regulations, EPA's ability to perform outreach is 
constrained by its resources. EPA developed EPA Actions to more 
effectively target outreach resources for the most meaningful 
engagement and to provide guidance to its permitting programs in 
regional and headquarters offices in order to promote consistency and 
transparency in EPA's permitting outreach planning, and to ensure that 
enhanced outreach is provided in situations where it may have an impact 
on permit outcomes. EPA believes that such transparency and consistency 
aids EPA in making more informed decisions, but also gives notice to 
the public of EPA's considerations and encourages public engagement in 
the permitting process.
    EPA is issuing Promising Practices to encourage permit applicants 
to strategically plan and conduct enhanced

[[Page 27222]]

outreach to overburdened communities in the permitting process. As some 
commenters noted, EPA has recommended some of the outreach strategies 
included in Promising Practices previously. Nevertheless, EPA believes 
that it is important to issue Promising Practices to encourage greater 
use of practices, some of which are already employed by permit 
applicants, that EPA believes can be effectively and beneficially used 
in the context of permitting and environmental justice.
    EPA is not requiring permit applicants to adopt the Promising 
Practices. Promising Practices are simply that: Good ideas in the form 
of suggestions to permit applicants. EPA believes permit applicants may 
benefit from applying these Promising Practices. EPA hopes that when 
permit applicants practice early and meaningful dialogue with community 
members, they can help build trust, promote a better understanding in 
neighboring communities of the facility's environmental impact, and 
build strong relationships that will lead to better results for both 
the permit applicant and community. For example, EPA expects the 
alignment of interests between a permit applicant's interests and those 
of community members, who can be employees, customers, or investors in 
the applicant's company, to lead to creative solutions that promote the 
achievement of mutual economic and environmental goals. EPA also 
believes that engaging community members upfront and throughout the 
permitting process can be an effective tool for identifying and 
addressing (or even avoiding) potential problems, and avoiding delays 
resulting from concerns being raised late in the permitting process. 
These and other benefits are discussed in the Promising Practices.
    Some commenters suggested that EPA should expand the scope of the 
Environmental Justice in Permitting Initiative beyond EPA-issued 
permits. EPA recognizes that most permits under its environmental 
statutes are issued by state, local, and tribal governments, not EPA. 
EPA believes, however, that the best way to exercise leadership in this 
particular area is by undertaking these activities itself before 
requiring state, local and tribal governments to do so. EPA believes 
permits issued by EPA present valuable opportunities to address 
environmental justice in the permitting process. EPA intends to discuss 
its experiences and ideas with these governments as well as with other 
federal agencies with the goal of learning from its state, local and 
tribal partners and of promoting similar efforts.
    EPA is not discouraging state, local and tribal authorities from 
adopting elements of EPA Actions or Promising Practices or other 
measures that may improve their own or their permit applicants' efforts 
to engage overburdened communities in their permitting processes. EPA 
recognizes that some state, local and tribal governments already engage 
in the kinds of activities described in this notice and have made 
significant progress in meaningfully involving overburdened communities 
in the permitting process. EPA believes that state, local and tribal 
permitting authorities with experience in this area can provide 
valuable information that will strengthen EPA's efforts. Therefore, EPA 
invites these authorities to continue to share with EPA ideas and 
approaches that can ensure the meaningful involvement of overburdened 
communities in the permitting process and encourage dialogue between 
permit applicants and communities.
    EPA also recognizes that states may have obligations to ensure 
public participation in the permitting process under EPA regulations 
governing state programs. As recipients of federal financial 
assistance, they have affirmative obligations not to discriminate under 
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other non-discrimination 
statutes, EPA regulations at 40 CFR parts 5 and 7, and terms and 
conditions of their grant awards. This notice does not address or 
modify those obligations. Please refer to EPA's Guidance to 
Environmental Protection Agency Financial Recipients Regarding Title VI 
Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited 
English Proficient Persons (69 FR 35602, June 25, 2004) and Title VI 
Public Involvement Guidance for EPA Assistance Recipients Administering 
Environmental Permitting Programs (71 FR 14207, March 21, 2006).
    As previously mentioned, considering Environmental Justice in 
Permitting is one initiative under Plan EJ 2014. The ideas in this 
notice are meant to complement all of the other tools and resources 
developed under Plan EJ 2014 and other EPA initiatives to aid 
communities and EPA permitting authorities in incorporating 
environmental justice into the permitting process. The tools and 
resources include: EJ Legal Tools, which addresses EPA's legal 
authority to consider environmental justice; EPA's effort to develop a 
nationally consistent screening tool for environmental justice; EPA's 
efforts to meaningfully engage local communities and stakeholders in 
government decisions on land cleanup, emergency preparedness and 
responses and the management of hazardous substances and wastes through 
the Community Engagement Network; and EPA's collaboration with other 
federal agencies to improve our community-based actions and assistance 
and to strengthen the use of interagency legal tools, such as the 
National Environmental Policy Act. These resources supplement 
information disseminated by EPA regional offices about their permit 
processes and particular permits.
    Section III below focuses on activities that EPA regional offices 
are undertaking to promote meaningful engagement of overburdened 
communities in the permitting process. Section IV presents promising 
practices that permit applicants can use to initiate and sustain a 
dialogue with the neighboring communities that are impacted by the 
permitted activity.

III. Actions That EPA Regional Offices Are Taking To Promote Meaningful 
Engagement in the Permitting Process by Overburdened Communities (``EPA 
Actions'')

    EPA has identified a number of activities and approaches that can 
be used to promote greater public involvement of overburdened 
communities in its permitting processes, particularly for major 
permitted activities that may significantly impact these communities. 
Each EPA regional office is developing a regional implementation plan 
to address meaningful engagement of overburdened communities in their 
permitting activities. This notice describes the general expectations 
for the regional plans and presents the framework and specific 
activities intended to enhance public participation.
    EPA expects that each regional office will use the agency-wide 
guidelines to develop a regional implementation plan that is 
appropriate for the particular circumstances within that region. The 
agency-wide guidelines in this notice are designed to promote 
consistency among regional offices and provide EPA's expectation for a 
basic regional plan. At the same time, EPA recognizes that each permit 
and community is different and that each EPA regional office has the 
insight and experience to develop strategies tailored to the particular 
communities and needs within that region. Thus, the regional 
implementation plans reflect a balance between national consistency and 
regional flexibility. EPA expects these plans to evolve as ``living 
documents''

[[Page 27223]]

that are updated periodically to more accurately reflect their 
experiences or circumstances once the plans are being implemented 
within the regions.
    The activities described in this notice supplement the standard 
notice-and-comment procedures required by law. Even though not required 
to do so, EPA promotes the use of these techniques and activities 
within regional offices because enhanced outreach can help remove some 
of the barriers that deter overburdened communities from participating 
in permit processes that affect them and are appropriate in some 
circumstances. The result could be better public health protection for 
these communities.
    It is important to note the difference between EPA's ``meaningful 
engagement'' of tribal communities in permitting in the environmental 
justice context and EPA's government-to-government consultation with 
federally recognized tribes. Although EPA implements its commitment to 
environmental justice by engaging tribal communities, organizations, 
and individuals on issues of environmental and public health 
protection, the Agency's engagement and consultation with tribal 
governments arises from EPA's recognition that the federal government 
has a unique government-to-government relationship with federally 
recognized tribes. The federal government has a trust responsibility to 
federally recognized tribes that arises from Indian treaties, statutes, 
Executive Orders, and the historical relations between the United 
States and Indian tribes. EPA, like other federal agencies, must act 
consistent with the federal trust responsibility when taking actions 
that affect federally recognized tribes. Part of this responsibility 
includes consulting with tribes and considering their interests when 
taking actions that may affect them or their resources. EPA will 
continue to consult with federally recognized tribes on EPA-issued 
permits that may affect them or their resources.

A. Agency-Wide Guidelines for EPA Regional Offices

    The guidelines presented here provide a framework for the regional 
offices to identify possible actions they can take to promote the 
meaningful engagement of overburdened communities for priority permits. 
Specifically, the guidelines for EPA regional offices are designed to: 
(1) Help regional offices identify which permits to prioritize for 
enhanced outreach to overburdened communities; and (2) suggest 
activities the regional offices can undertake to promote greater public 
involvement in their permitting process.
1. Priority Permits for Enhanced Public Involvement Opportunities
    Although any permit action may be an opportunity to enhance the 
engagement of a community, EPA believes that it is particularly 
important to provide meaningful engagement opportunities for permitted 
activities that may have significant public health or environmental 
impacts on overburdened communities. Robust public outreach and 
engagement can consume substantial resources among everyone involved. 
EPA recognizes that its regional offices cannot enhance engagement for 
every EPA-issued permit and that overburdened communities might not 
have the same interest in engagement for every permit potentially 
impacting them. For this reason, EPA will consider prioritizing for 
enhanced public involvement opportunities those EPA-issued permits 
associated with activities that may have significant public health or 
environmental impacts on overburdened communities. These might include 
new large production facilities or major modifications to existing 
facilities. However, EPA does not intend to scale back the public 
involvement opportunities it typically provides in other permits as a 
result of its efforts to provide enhanced public involvement for 
priority permits.
    To assist the regional offices in identifying priority permits for 
enhanced outreach, EPA has identified the types of permits that may 
involve activities with significant public health or environmental 
impacts. In providing this list, EPA does not intend for its regional 
offices to enhance engagement opportunities in every instance where one 
of these permits is at issue. Rather, this list is provided to 
illustrate the kinds of permit applications or renewals that may 
involve activities with significant public health or environmental 
impacts and that may be appropriate for prioritization if those impacts 
affect overburdened communities. Regional offices may also choose to 
prioritize permits that are not listed here. Examples of permits that 
may involve activities with significant public health or environmental 
impacts can include, but are not limited to, the following:
     Construction permits under the Clean Air Act, especially 
new major sources (or major modifications of sources) of criteria 
pollutants;
     Significant Underground Injection Control Program permits 
under the Safe Drinking Water Act;
     ``Major'' industrial National Pollutant Discharge 
Elimination System (NPDES) permits (as defined in 40 CFR 122.2) under 
the Clean Water Act that are for:
    [cir] New sources or new dischargers, or
    [cir] Existing sources with major modifications, including, but not 
limited to, a new outfall, a new or changed process that results in the 
discharge of new pollutants, or an increase in production that results 
in an increased discharge of pollutants;
     ``Non-Major'' industrial NPDES permits (as defined in 40 
CFR 122.2) under the Clean Water Act that are identified by EPA on a 
national or regional basis as a focus area, for:
    [cir] New sources or new discharges, or
    [cir] Existing sources with major modifications, including, but not 
limited to, a new outfall, a new or changed process that results in the 
discharge of new pollutants, or an increase in production that results 
in an increased discharge of pollutants; and
     RCRA permits associated with new combustion facilities or 
modifications to existing RCRA permits that address new treatment 
processes or corrective action cleanups involving potential off-site 
impacts.
    Several commenters asked for clarification on how EPA will 
prioritize permits for enhanced outreach, and whether such 
prioritization of permits is necessary. EPA believes a prioritization 
process will help regional offices to focus more thoughtfully on 
permitted activities that may have significant public health or 
environmental impacts on overburdened communities and to devote 
resources to outreach activities that will be most effective in 
engaging a particular community. EPA believes the prioritization 
process articulated in the guidelines appropriately takes into account 
available resources to engage in this work, variability across EPA 
regions, and variability across different communities. EPA expects the 
prioritization process to result in a manageable number of permits for 
which regional offices and communities can apply these guidelines.
    EPA recognizes that, as some commenters pointed out, the 
prioritization process articulated in the guidelines may not provide 
enough detail to determine which particular permits a regional office 
will prioritize for enhanced outreach. The guidelines in this notice 
are intended to establish parameters for regional implementation plans 
and to provide some national consistency across the plans while 
maintaining the flexibility of the regional offices to tailor outreach 
to particular circumstances.
    Some commenters asked whether EPA would provide enhanced outreach 
only if two criteria were met: (1) The

[[Page 27224]]

permitted activity is expected to have significant environmental or 
public health impacts, and (2) the affect community is already 
overburdened. EPA regional offices have the discretion to use other 
considerations to prioritize EPA-issued permits for enhanced outreach 
that do not meet either or both of those criteria. One important 
consideration would be whether a community has expressed concerns over 
a permit application or renewal. EPA regional offices may consider 
prioritizing such permits and may tailor the engagement of neighboring 
communities in proportion to the actual health or environmental impacts 
or public concerns expressed over the permitted activity. However, 
given resource constraints, EPA expects that it will only infrequently 
provide enhanced outreach for permitted activities in response to 
public concerns in the absence of information about potential 
significant public health or environmental impacts. Further, the 
enhanced outreach activities for a permitted activity that does not 
have significant public health or environmental impacts will not 
necessarily be the same as those for a permitted activity that has 
significant public health or environmental impacts. EPA intends to 
tailor enhanced outreach to the particular circumstances to most 
effectively utilize the time and resources of EPA as well as 
communities and permit applicants. Similarly, EPA may, on occasion, 
prioritize a permitted activity for enhanced outreach due to its 
significant impacts even though it does not impact an overburdened 
community.
    In response to comments inquiring whether permits that are not 
prioritized will receive outreach, EPA emphasizes that EPA will still 
comply with all applicable public participation requirements 
established by the relevant statutes and regulations. But EPA-issued 
permits that are not prioritized for enhanced outreach may not receive 
the supplemental activities presented below.
2. Regional Offices' Activities To Promote Greater Public Involvement 
in the Permitting Process
    Presented below is a list of activities that EPA regional offices 
are undertaking at key junctures in the permitting process to promote 
greater involvement of overburdened communities. The list of activities 
is intended to identify priority areas of activity and to provide 
options for activities regions can consider including in the regional 
implementation plans they develop. Regional offices, therefore, may 
choose not to implement all of the activities listed below. Similarly, 
the list of activities is not meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive. 
Different situations will justify different responses.
    Planning & Gathering Information:
    [cir] Identify upcoming priority permits for promoting greater 
public involvement. When identifying priority permits, focus on permits 
that community members have identified as a priority, to the extent 
such information is available.
    [cir] Locate existing data and studies that are relevant to the 
particular community.
    [cir] Explore ways to reach out to the affected community in 
coordination with relevant EPA staff, including permit writers, EJ 
coordinators, public affairs staff, the press office, and EPA's 
Conflict Prevention & Resolution Center.
    [cir] Coordinate with state, local, and/or tribal authorities in 
appropriate circumstances.
    [cir] Evaluate the appropriate length of the public comment period 
and EPA's openness to requests to extend that period.
    [cir] Consider holding information meetings for the public in 
addition to the formal public comment processes.
    Coordinating within EPA:
    [cir] For applicants with multiple EPA permits, inform EPA permit 
writers from other offices in the region that your office has received 
a permit application from the applicant.
    Communicating with Community Members:
    [cir] Designate EPA point(s) of contact that community members can 
contact to discuss environmental justice concerns or questions of a 
technical nature about the permit application.
    [cir] Use informational materials to explain the permitting 
process.
    [cir] Use plain language when communicating with the public.
    [cir] Use communication techniques that community members value, 
such as direct mailings, posters, articles in local newspapers, and 
emails to list serves.
    [cir] Offer translation services for communities with multi-lingual 
populations (including interpreters at public meetings or translations 
of public documents).
    [cir] Make key documents on the proposed project readily accessible 
to community members, using a variety of media tools (paper copies, 
online, etc.), when appropriate.
    [cir] Hold public meetings at times and places in neighboring 
communities best designed to afford the public a meaningful chance to 
attend.
    [cir] Give careful consideration to requests to extend the comment 
period, or hold additional public meetings.
    [cir] After the permit has been issued, make available to community 
members a summary of EPA's comment responses and provide information on 
where community members can find the entire comment response document.
    Communicating with the Permit Applicant:
    [cir] Encourage the permit applicant to provide EPA with a plain-
language description of its proposed project or permit application.
    [cir] Encourage the permit applicant to consult EPA guidance on 
environmental justice and other resources developed under Plan EJ 2014, 
including the Promising Practices for Permit Applicants Seeking EPA-
Issued Permits: Ways to Engage Neighboring Communities.
    Some commenters inquired why EPA does not require all EPA regional 
offices to perform the same or particular outreach activities. EPA 
Actions strikes an important balance between national consistency and 
regional flexibility. The Agency-wide guidelines establish national 
consistency by providing EPA's expectations for the regional 
implementation plans. At the same time, EPA recognizes that the 
regional offices need the flexibility to take actions suited to the 
types of permits and communities typically seen within the region. EPA 
believes that each regional office has the insight and experience to 
develop strategies tailored to their particular circumstances. To 
support this needed regional flexibility, the guidelines do not 
prescribe which permits the EPA regional offices must prioritize or 
which outreach activities they must adopt.

B. EPA's Expectations for Regional Implementation Plans

    EPA expects each regional office to develop, implement and make 
publicly available a regional implementation plan consistent with the 
Agency-wide guidelines presented in this notice in order to support the 
meaningful engagement of overburdened communities in the permitting 
process for priority permits. EPA believes that regional offices will 
be better able to provide enhanced outreach when they have planned and 
allocated resources for outreach in advance through the development of 
regional implementation plans. EPA also believes that making the 
regional implementation plans publicly available will increase 
transparency and inform communities of EPA regional offices' efforts to 
create opportunities for

[[Page 27225]]

overburdened communities to meaningfully engage in the permitting 
process. EPA intends for the plans to evolve as ``living documents'' as 
the regional offices gain experience with using the plans to guide 
their outreach efforts in overburdened communities for priority 
permits.
    EPA expects the regional implementation plans to address with more 
specificity the process that a regional office will use to prioritize 
permits for enhanced engagement, including the types of permits and 
activities the regional offices plan to implement. EPA expects the 
regional plans to be tailored to the region's specific needs but also 
to be consistent with the Agency-wide guidelines on prioritization of 
permits for enhanced engagement and priority areas of outreach 
activities outlined in today's notice.
    Consistent with the Agency-wide guidelines previously discussed, 
EPA expects the regional implementation plans to include:
    I. EPA Regional Offices' Process for Prioritizing Permits for 
Enhanced Engagement
    a. Use of a screening tool or other methodology to help identify 
potentially overburdened communities; and
    b. Types of permits with significant public health or environmental 
impacts.
    II. Priority Enhanced Outreach Activities
    a. Planning and gathering information;
    b. Coordinating within EPA;
    c. Communicating with Community Members; and
    d. Communicating with the Permit Applicant.
    In summary, EPA expects the regional implementation plans to give a 
general picture of the types of permits that a regional office expects 
to target for enhanced outreach and what enhanced outreach might 
entail. Regional implementation plans are intended to inform the public 
of an EPA regional office's plans to prioritize and conduct enhanced 
outreach for permits generally. However, the regional implementation 
plans are not intended to be a prospective or retrospective account of 
the particular permits a regional office prioritized and specific 
activities it conducted for enhancing outreach in overburdened 
communities.
    EPA anticipates that the regional implementation plans will be 
publicly available in Spring 2013. The regional implementation plans 
will be posted to EPA's Plan EJ 2014 Web site, at http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/plan-ej/index.html. Additionally, each Region will 
post its regional implementation plan to the appropriate EPA regional 
Web site.
    Under the Agency-wide guidelines for regional implementation plans, 
EPA regional offices are expected to prioritize permits for enhanced 
outreach based on the criteria of whether the permitted activities 
could have significant environmental or public health impacts, and 
whether those impacts affect an overburdened community. To be 
prioritized for outreach, a permit will likely need to meet both 
criteria. However, as previously mentioned, on occasion, EPA regional 
office may decide to prioritize some EPA-issued permits for enhanced 
outreach even if they do not meet one or both of the criteria.
    When prioritizing a permit for enhanced outreach, an EPA regional 
office need not assess whether permitted activities have significant 
environmental or public health impacts prior to investigating whether 
the permitted activities affect an overburdened community, or vice 
versa. Thus, EPA expects that some EPA regional offices will examine 
whether a permitted activity has significant environmental or public 
health impacts prior to assessing whether an overburdened community 
would be impacted by the permitted activity while other EPA regional 
offices might first examine whether an overburdened community would be 
impacted. Accordingly, if an EPA regional office assesses the 
significance of the environmental and public health impacts of a 
permitted activity first, the EPA regional office may decide not to 
perform an environmental justice screening on every permit application 
it receives. Instead, the EPA regional office would perform an 
environmental justice screening only on the permits that have been 
found to have significant environmental or public health impacts. 
Consequently, EPA does not expect that EPA regional offices will 
perform an environmental justice screening on every permit application.
    Some commenters asked how EPA regional offices would perform an 
environmental justice screening of permits. The Agency has developed a 
nationally consistent screening tool to help identify communities that 
are potentially overburdened. This tool, known as EJSCREEN, is one of 
several tools being developed under Plan EJ 2014. EPA anticipates that 
its regional offices will use EJSCREEN and other readily available 
information, including known community concerns, to help prioritize 
their permits for enhanced outreach. In cases where EJSCREEN is not 
appropriate for use in screening because the relevant data were not 
available for the area, the region will complete a similar screening by 
reviewing available demographic and environmental data. EPA expects 
that in most circumstances EJSCREEN will be the appropriate tool for 
initial screening. Please visit EPA's Plan EJ 2014 Web site (http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/plan-ej/index.html) to learn more 
about EJSCREEN.
    Other commenters asked how EPA regional offices would determine 
whether a permitted activity has significant environmental or public 
health impacts. When permit applicants submit an application, they are 
required to provide information on the proposed project consistent with 
the requirements of particular statutes and regulations. EPA may also 
do its own assessment of the environmental and public health impacts of 
a proposed project, using modeling and monitoring data for example. All 
of this information would inform an EPA regional office's decision on 
whether a permitted activity has significant environmental or public 
health impacts.
    EPA recognizes that a permitted activity could potentially impact 
an area that straddles two or more EPA regions. The EPA region where 
the permitted activity is located has the lead for issuing the permit 
and is expected to apply the prioritization process for enhanced 
outreach as described in their regional implementation plan. EPA 
regional offices with the lead for issuing the permit routinely engage 
other EPA regional offices impacted by the permitted activity to 
coordinate on analysis and outreach.
    Some commenters inquired about the relationship between enhanced 
outreach and the ultimate permit terms. Specifically, they asked if a 
prioritized permit for enhanced outreach would be subject to stricter 
emissions or discharge limits or perhaps denied altogether. In response 
to this comment, EPA notes that an EPA regional office's decisions on 
whether to issue a permit and, if so, the conditions to impose within a 
permit are distinct from the EPA regional office's decision about the 
outreach it will perform during the permitting process. An EPA regional 
office's decision on whether to issue a permit and what permit 
conditions to impose are governed by statute and regulation. Neither 
EPA Actions nor Promising Practices affects that. However, enhanced 
outreach to communities during the permitting process can provide an 
EPA regional office with information relevant to the EPA regional 
office's decision to issue a permit, and what conditions to require

[[Page 27226]]

should the regional office issue the permit. For example, community 
involvement in the permitting process might provide EPA information on 
vulnerable portions of the community. Based on that information, EPA 
might require additional monitoring or reporting to learn more about 
how pollution from the permitted activity impacts vulnerable sub-
populations, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

IV. Promising Practices for Permit Applicants Seeking EPA-Issued 
Permits: Ways To Engage Neighboring Communities

    For EPA-issued permits, both the permit applicant and the 
potentially affected community are key stakeholders in the permitting 
process. Therefore, EPA engaged in extensive outreach to these 
stakeholders and in particular the business community, on how to 
meaningfully engage neighboring communities in the permitting process. 
Business leaders on environmental justice issues shared their 
experiences and insights with EPA. EPA learned that if a permit 
applicant engages a community early and maintains that conversation, a 
partnership can form that facilitates the exchange of information and 
provides the foundation for dialogue on issues that may arise later 
during the permitting process.
    Such engagement may be especially beneficial with communities that 
have historically been underrepresented in the permitting process and 
that potentially bear a disproportionate burden of an area's pollution. 
EPA learned from its conversations with business stakeholders that 
dialogue with community members early in the permitting process 
promotes reasonable expectations among the public and, therefore, more 
predictable outcomes for the permit applicant. EPA also learned that 
permit applicants that invest in outreach may avoid the costs of delay, 
negative publicity among peers and investors, and community distrust 
resulting from community members objecting to a permit late in the 
permitting process.
    In EPA's view, a facility that believes in environmental 
stewardship in all its dimensions and that acts consistently with that 
belief, including accountability to the neighboring community, may 
achieve more environmental good than any permit can compel. Reducing 
treatment failures, spills or other incidents becomes a source of 
organizational pride when facility's successes--including the 
facility's response and prevention strategies--are publicized within 
neighboring communities. Transparency and accountability also make good 
business sense because facilities save energy, devise new technologies, 
reduce the rate of equipment failures, and develop cleaner products, 
among other things. This ethic of corporate responsibility can improve 
the neighboring environment and far beyond. Engaging meaningfully with 
the local community is another facet of responsible corporate 
citizenship that achieves environmental results. EPA believes that a 
partnership with neighboring communities can lead to more informed 
permits, resulting in better outcomes for the permit applicant as well 
as neighboring communities that have a stake in the success of the 
facility.
    In order to maximize the benefits of community engagement, and 
conserve the limited resources of both the permit applicants and the 
communities for outreach, EPA has identified what it considers to be 
effective communication practices and strategies that permit applicants 
can employ to meaningfully involve communities in the permitting 
process. EPA gathered these practices and strategies from numerous 
conversations with members of the business community, environmental 
justice stakeholders, state, local and tribal governments and 
communities, non-governmental organizations, and the NEJAC. The 
resulting document, entitled Promising Practices, is included in 
today's notice.
    An earlier version of this document described the practices and 
strategies as ``best practices.'' As several commenters noted, not 
every practice will be appropriate for every circumstance, as the term 
``best practices'' implies. The term ``promising practices'' better 
communicates EPA's desire to encourage permit applicants to use and 
tailor these effective outreach practices in appropriate situations.
    The promising practices are designed to foster leadership among 
permit applicants operating, or proposing to operate, facilities in 
overburdened communities. EPA hopes that these promising practices will 
inform businesses and other participants in the permitting process of 
some effective techniques for meaningfully engaging overburdened 
communities in the permitting process for EPA-issued permits. Though 
previous EPA regulations, guidance and informational materials may have 
already highlighted some of these practices as effective outreach 
tools, EPA believes it is appropriate to emphasize the effectiveness 
and benefits of employing them in the context of permitting and 
environmental justice. EPA commends those permit applicants who are 
already employing promising practices, and encourages other permit 
applicants to adopt promising practices as appropriate.
    The promising practices are meant to complement existing guidance 
and recommendations issued by permitting authorities, including state 
and local agencies. The promising practices are not themselves legal 
requirements and do not modify existing statutory or regulatory 
requirements for the permitting process for EPA-issued permits. EPA 
emphasizes that no permit applicant will be required to follow these 
suggestions. Nor are the promising practices intended to be de facto 
requirements in the process, as a checklist or otherwise.

V. Conclusion

    EPA appreciates the suggestions and comments received in response 
to its proposals. EPA is issuing the EPA Actions to encourage more 
transparency and consistency in EPA's permitting process with the goal 
of increasing meaningful engagement of overburdened communities in the 
permitting process. EPA is issuing Promising Practices to encourage 
permit applicants to similarly strategically plan and conduct enhanced 
outreach to overburdened communities in the permitting process.
    The EPA Actions and the Promising Practices are not an 
interpretation of environmental statutes, nor do they add or change 
interpretations of statutory obligations regarding permitting contained 
in existing regulations. Throughout the permitting process, EPA 
regional offices and permit applicants must comply with the relevant 
public process obligations set forth in the applicable statues and 
implementing regulations. However, EPA feels that in some circumstances 
it is appropriate to go beyond the minimum public involvement 
requirements of statutes and regulations to encourage the participation 
of communities that will be significantly impacted by a permit but have 
historically been underrepresented in the permitting process.
    Although enhanced engagement of overburdened communities in the 
permitting process may not necessarily change the permit outcome, EPA 
believes that meaningful involvement of overburdened communities is a 
desirable end in and of itself. This is because, in some cases, 
overburdened communities have significantly been impacted by a 
permitted activity but

[[Page 27227]]

have not been able to access or participate in the permitting process. 
By expanding a community's participation in the permitting process, EPA 
can promote their understanding of the permitted activity, acquire 
important information about their concerns, and foster a community's 
sense of connection to government and business actions. EPA also 
believes that enhanced engagement of overburdened communities in the 
permitting process improves the permitting process generally through 
more transparency and more consistency. EPA believes that such 
transparency and consistency aids EPA in making more informed 
decisions, but also gives notice to the public of EPA's considerations 
and encourages them to engage EPA in the permitting process generally 
as well as for specific permits. Additionally, engagement of permit 
applicants and communities earlier in the permitting process can lead 
to a more informed permitting process that allows for resolution of 
issues earlier that could otherwise delay the issuance of a permit. EPA 
further believes that every time enhanced outreach leads to a feasible 
solution to an issue of interest to a community, all stakeholders 
benefit.

    Dated: April 30, 2013.
Lisa Garcia,
Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice.

Promising Practices for Permit Applicants Seeking EPA-Issued Permits: 
Ways To Engage Neighboring Communities

I. Introduction

    Achieving environmental justice is an integral part of EPA's 
mission to protect human health and the environment. One way EPA 
promotes environmental justice is to ensure that individuals in all 
parts of society have access to information sufficient to help them 
participate meaningfully in EPA decision-making.
    EPA decision-making takes many forms. These promising practices 
focus on the permitting process, through which EPA authorizes 
industrial and municipal facilities to release pollutants into the 
environment at levels intended to meet applicable standards.
    By soliciting public comment prior to issuing permits, EPA plays an 
important role in bringing communities and other members of the public 
into the permitting conversation. But the best time to begin positive, 
collaborative dialogue is before the permit is drafted, even before a 
permit application is filed. And the key players are not EPA but rather 
permit applicants and members of the neighboring community. Both sets 
of individuals have a long-term stake in the health of the community 
and the success of the company or enterprise.
    Information is critical at this early stage in the permitting 
process, and the permit applicant has access to the information that 
can create a constructive dialogue throughout the permitting process. 
The permit applicant also has an interest in being a good neighbor to a 
community. EPA believes that many applicants for EPA-issued permits are 
already employing practices to be good neighbors. These promising 
practices are designed to help all permit applicants to apply good 
neighbor values to the permitting process, with an emphasis on ways to 
reach out effectively to the neighboring community.
    EPA encourages all permit applicants to experiment with these 
practices; all neighborhoods and communities benefit when a facility 
reaches out as part of the permitting process. EPA emphasizes 
neighboring communities because, for the vast majority of permits, 
communities most proximate to a facility are likely to be the most 
impacted by a permitting decision. For some permits, however, the 
communities most impacted by a permitting decision may exist beyond the 
fence-line. EPA encourages permit applicants for such permits to make 
efforts to engage the communities that are likely to experience public 
health or environmental impacts from their permitted activities. These 
practices also have particular value in overburdened neighborhoods that 
have been historically underrepresented in the permitting process or 
may face barriers to participation in the permitting process, such as 
lack of trust, lack of awareness or information, language barriers, and 
limited access to technical information and other resources.
    EPA hopes that these promising practices--which emerged from EPA's 
conversations with a host of community, permit applicant and government 
stakeholders--will help applicants for EPA-issued permits to seize a 
leadership role in this important area and, in doing so, demonstrate 
publicly that their statements of core values on their Web sites or 
elsewhere do indeed influence corporate behavior.

II. The Purpose of Promising Practices

    The purpose of these promising practices is to publicize the good 
neighbor practices already employed by permit applicants across the 
country and to encourage their greater use. Many of these practices are 
quite simple. They can help build trust, promote a better understanding 
in a community of the facility's environmental impacts, foster 
realistic expectations and help build strong partnerships that lead to 
better results for all parties. Investing in outreach to communities is 
a cost-effective strategy. EPA encourages permit applicants to make 
each of its facilities a good neighbor to the neighboring communities. 
EPA hopes that the promising practices will help companies think of 
ways to engage the neighboring communities and, in doing so, become 
better neighbors.

III. Why is EPA providing promising practices to permit applicants?

    Industrial facilities are important members of the communities in 
which they are located. In addition to their important role as a source 
of employment and economic stability within a community, facilities 
play other roles. Many facilities, for example, have robust community 
engagement strategies that recognize the value of community outreach. 
Pursuant to these strategies, facilities engage actively with a 
community through environmental initiatives, neighborhood 
beautification projects, education programs and charitable giving, 
civic programs and the arts, youth activities, and other investments in 
communities. Indeed, many companies and public authorities embody these 
principles in their mission statements, using words and phrases like 
collaboration, respect, and mutually beneficial relationships. Some 
even aspire to measure their own success by the success of their 
customers, shareholders, employees and communities. In short, a 
corporate culture has emerged in this Nation that values and actively 
promotes community partnerships.
    EPA recognizes that many permit applicants already practice 
community outreach. These promising practices are meant to encourage 
those leaders to continue their efforts and to provide helpful 
suggestions for those seeking greater direction. EPA also hopes that 
the practices described here will persuade those who are new to these 
ideas to experiment with this form of leadership. Indeed, engaging with 
their communities as described here is consistent with many permit 
applicants' core values. These principles, practices and values lead to 
corporate sustainability, stability and--ultimately--profitability.
    Early and meaningful dialogue between the permit applicant and a 
community is especially important in communities that have historically 
been

[[Page 27228]]

underrepresented in the permitting process or that potentially bear a 
disproportionate burden of an area's pollution. Meaningful dialogue 
promotes environmental justice. EPA encourages applicants for EPA-
issued permits to engage in public outreach to the neighboring 
communities whenever the facility's pollutant releases have--or are 
perceived by a community to have--potential health and environmental 
impacts on overburdened communities. In such cases, the permit 
applicant has an opportunity to inform the neighboring community about 
the facility's actual pollutant releases and impacts. Providing 
specific information about the pollution and related health impacts of 
a permit action may allay general concerns community members have about 
the facility or educate it about other sources of exposure. A permit 
applicant that ignores a neighboring community's concerns about 
pollution from its facility or general concerns about pollution in the 
community may experience delays in the permitting process, negative 
publicity, and community distrust. Employing promising practices can 
foster a dialogue between the permit applicant and community members to 
prevent misunderstandings and possibly opposition to the permit. The 
permit applicant can tailor the engagement of the neighboring community 
to be proportionate to the actual health and environmental impacts of 
the facility or the particular concerns of community members. This 
approach is consistent with EPA's objectives under Plan EJ 2014, which 
promotes meaningful involvement of an affected community in the 
permitting process.
    EPA believes these promising practices can foster a smoother and 
faster permitting process. This outcome is in everyone's interest--EPA, 
permit applicants and communities alike. The permit applicant and EPA 
have an interest in an efficient permitting process. The permit 
applicant wants permission to make operational improvements or 
construct a new facility. The permitting authority wants to efficiently 
issue a permit that comports with the law and accounts for public 
comment in addition to protecting human health and the environment. 
Some communities at the very least wants the assurance that, through 
appropriate permit terms and conditions, the permit applicant accepts 
responsibility for appropriately controlling its pollutant releases and 
keeps a community informed of its control successes (and failures). 
These interests, while different, do not conflict. Conversations 
between the permit applicant and community members before the permit 
application is filed can help launch the permit process in a way that 
achieves all of these interests, with minimum conflict and delay. This 
could result in a more expeditious permitting process.
    Early engagement can also yield a less contentious permitting 
process. It seems axiomatic that communities generally do not welcome 
one more source of pollution, especially when the community already 
feels aggrieved by past siting decisions. But this may not be so self-
evident when the new project accelerates a transition to cleaner energy 
or achieves another important environmental objective with benefits 
beyond the local community. Early meaningful dialogue can help sort out 
the interests, encourage a permit applicant to accept responsibility 
for its impacts, and perhaps find low-cost ways valuable to some 
communities by which the permit applicant can voluntarily mitigate 
environmental burdens. Community members may be less likely to hold a 
new project responsible for past unrelated actions if the permit 
applicant accepts responsibility for its own actions and is willing to 
help make community life better.

IV. How can a permit applicant enhance its outreach to a neighboring 
community?

    There are many ways that a facility can enhance its outreach to a 
community. Whatever degree of outreach a facility chooses to employ, 
the following promising practices are designed to help both the permit 
applicant and the surrounding communities get a reasonable return on 
their investment of time, energy and other resources. EPA gathered 
these ideas from permit applicants that have employed them, but EPA 
notes that every situation is different. The permit applicant and the 
affected community are in the best position to determine what 
engagement strategy is most appropriate for their particular 
circumstances.

1. Think Ahead

    Before deciding whether to undertake special efforts to reach out 
to the neighboring community regarding a permit application, a permit 
applicant may want to ask itself the following types of questions. The 
answers to these questions may help the permit applicant decide what 
kind of community engagement will be most appropriate under the 
circumstances.
     What are the geographic boundaries of the neighboring 
community?
     What are the demographics of the neighboring community?
     Who in the community may be affected by the proposed 
permit?
     Has the facility successfully worked with the neighboring 
community in the past?
     Are there other facilities or major pollution sources 
(e.g., highways, landfills) in the neighboring community? Do community 
members have a history of engaging with those facilities?
     Would the new permit introduce new or additional 
pollutants to the neighboring community?
     Is the neighboring community already exposed to pollutants 
originating from other facilities?
     How will changes at the facility site affect the quality 
of life in the neighboring community, independent of the pollutants 
released?
     Is the proposed pollutant release--or associated 
activity--likely to cause concern among community members?
     If a risk assessment has been performed for the 
neighboring community, what does it say? What have community members 
said about it?
     What direction do the permit applicant's published core 
values offer?
    Permit applicants may be required to reach out to a neighboring 
community before applying for a permit. For example, EPA's Resource 
Conservation and Recovery Act permitting regulations for hazardous 
waste treatment, storage, or disposal facilities have such 
requirements. See 40 CFR 124.31. In most cases, however, the decision 
on whether to engage in pre-application outreach is committed to the 
permit applicant's good judgment. (See Section V below for a discussion 
of the benefits to permit applicants when they engage community members 
as part of permit applications.) But however a permit applicant chooses 
to engage the neighboring community, its outreach activities should be 
proportional to the impact the facility's proposed permitting action 
would have upon the community. In other words, permitting actions that 
may have a significant impact on the community may justify more 
extensive outreach than permits likely to have fewer impacts. Engaging 
community members early in the permitting process can help a permit 
applicant gauge the level of outreach appropriate to community member's 
concerns.
    Community assessments can be a useful tool for permit applicants to 
consider as they develop appropriate outreach strategies for a 
community.

[[Page 27229]]

These assessments can help permit applicants develop a detailed profile 
of a community and identify any concerns related to the proposed 
project. They can also provide background information on a community 
the permit applicant anticipates engaging. Another useful tool is a 
public participation plan. Public participation plans can vary greatly 
in the extent of their detail. The purpose of a public participation 
plan is to aid the permit applicant in organizing its outreach. It can 
also help convey the facility's outreach strategy to a community.
    EPA recognizes that a permit applicant, despite its planning and 
execution, might not elicit community interest in its project. For 
example, few people might attend meetings or visit the plant for tours. 
Before concluding that community members are uninterested in the 
project, the company may want to explore whether its engagement efforts 
were sufficiently tailored for the community. If the permit applicant's 
efforts to engage the community are made in good faith and are 
sufficiently tailored for community members, this will go a long way 
toward building trust, even if members of the community ultimately 
choose not to engage.

2. Engage Community Leaders

    An effective way of promoting early and meaningful engagement 
between a permit applicant and the surrounding community is by creating 
a community environmental partnership. The key is to assemble the right 
people to be in the partnership. EPA has learned from stakeholders that 
the first step in meaningful engagement is identifying, working with, 
and cultivating trusting relationships with community leaders; doing so 
will then foster effective relationships among the interests they 
represent and will help identify their common as well as their unique 
goals.
    Community leaders may be elected officials or specialists in local, 
state or tribal government. Thus, permit applicants may want to engage 
government officials in the permitting process for EPA-issued permits 
to take advantage of their knowledge, experience and networks. In some 
cases, government officials may have already played a role in approving 
the facility through zoning and siting processes. Thus, these 
government officials are in the best position to address such concerns 
with community members. Similarly, government officials may be an 
excellent source when gathering information about other facilities that 
impact a community. The following promising practices can help a 
company create a successful community environmental partnership.
     Find out who the established community leaders are, both 
elected and unelected.
     On tribal lands, work with the tribal government and other 
contacts to identify tribal community leaders to commence outreach and 
assistance to tribal communities.
     Identify people who collectively understand the needs (and 
aspirations) of local stakeholders (permit applicant, community, 
environmental groups, academic, etc.).
     Recruit stakeholder representatives who have strong 
interpersonal skills and are willing to:
    [cir] Seek common interests;
    [cir] Cultivate trusting relationships.
     Engage with diverse leadership so that many views can be 
brought into the dialogue. Successful partnerships have a variety of 
local perspectives, including:
    [cir] Grassroots organizations and leaders;
    [cir] Faith community leaders;
    [cir] Tribal government and community representatives;
    [cir] Academic institutions;
    [cir] State, county or local governments;
    [cir] Environmental groups;
    [cir] Health organizations;
    [cir] Permittees, including, ideally, the facilities in the 
neighborhood that engage in activities that generate pollution.

3. Engage Effectively

    As is the case with any relationship, predictable and ongoing 
interactions are key to a strong partnership between a permit applicant 
and a community. A permit applicant engaging a community early in the 
permitting process, or even before the formal permitting process begins 
through pre-application meetings, can lay the foundation for a positive 
relationship with a community. In addition to early engagement, holding 
regularly scheduled meetings throughout the permitting process can 
build on that earlier outreach and ensure continuing communication, 
further fostering the relationship between community members and permit 
applicant.
    The following promising practices can help the permit applicant 
engage effectively with community members.
     Foster sustained involvement by the participants; 
relationships are created between individuals, not the positions they 
hold.
     If a public participation plan or policy describing 
outreach activities was developed, make it available to the public as a 
sign of the permit applicant's intention to engage meaningfully with 
community members.
     Invite community members and leaders to comment on 
community outreach plans and processes, and give feedback on what is 
working and lessons learned.
     Discuss project plans and potential impacts as early in 
the planning process as possible, even if the permit applicant can 
speak only in general terms.
    [cir] If the permit applicant is unsure about potential impacts, it 
is better to acknowledge this fact; denying the potential for impacts 
can undermine credibility and trust.
    [cir] Encourage input from community members on their concerns 
about particular impacts early in the planning stages.
     Provide progress or status reports.
     Invite members of the community and community leaders for 
regular tours of the facility, especially when the facility is planning 
to change a process that might affect the community.
     Consider investing time in public education, e.g., by 
hosting one- or two-day public information sessions with posters and 
kiosks dedicated to specific topics, with discussions led by facility 
personnel who are both familiar with the subject and capable of 
effective discussion with the public (using a conversational tone, not 
being defensive, using clear and non-technical language, etc.).

4. Communicate Effectively

    Permit applicants may need help to determine the most effective and 
appropriate methods for informing and receiving input from community 
members. Community leaders can provide this help. For example, they can 
identify commonly spoken languages and any language barriers or Limited 
English Proficiency within the neighboring community. They can also 
help identify which media outlets (radio, newspaper, church bulletins), 
outreach methods (going door-to-door, using social media, texting, 
phoning, putting up fliers) and outreach materials (brochures, fact 
sheets, postcards, letters, web postings) will be most effective in 
communicating with community members. Community leaders can also help 
to create more effective opportunities to receive information from the 
public (individual/small/large/public/private meetings, anonymous 
hotlines, solicitation of written comments). For some communities, it 
may be appropriate to consider utilizing collaborative or interactive 
Web-based information technology (IT) tools, social media, cell phone 
applications, or other tools to

[[Page 27230]]

keep communities informed of activities related to a permitting 
project. On the other hand, some communities do not have access to the 
most modern communications tools and permit applicants may need to 
resort to using local radio stations, CB radio, local newspapers, 
posters at grocery stores or trading posts, or village/community 
center/chapter meetings to keep communities informed. Every community 
is different, so permit applicants that listen to their community's 
advice and involve the community in their outreach efforts have a 
greater chance of a successful outcome.
    A key component of effective communication is creating an 
environment for all stakeholders to meaningfully participate in a 
dialogue. Good ideas, including ideas that are good for the permit 
applicant, can come from many sources. By meaningfully engaging with a 
community potentially affected by an environmental permit, a permit 
applicant may acquire a better sense of a community's true concerns and 
ways a permit applicant could help alleviate them. Transparency and 
disclosure of information that may be of interest to a community, such 
as performance reports, can build trust conducive to meaningful 
dialogue.
    EPA recognizes that both permit applicants and communities have 
limited resources to engage in dialogue. The following promising 
practices on fostering two-way communication and collaboration between 
permit applicants and communities, collected from permit applicants and 
communities, may help permit applicants communicate more effectively 
and thus efficiently use their resources.
     Set up a hotline for community members to report a problem 
or concern about the proposed project.
     Identify a single person within the facility to be the 
liaison that community members can call with concerns or problems.
     Institute regular meetings among all stakeholders.
     Consider organizing citizen advisory councils or community 
environmental partnerships.
     Select meeting locations and times that are convenient and 
comfortable for the community. Follow advice from community leaders to 
communicate in ways most effective for the community you are trying to 
reach. Use language and terminology that community members understand, 
including providing technical data in everyday terms.
     Consider alternate methods of obtaining input for 
community members who may be interested but unable to attend public 
meetings (e.g., allow submission of comments and surveys in writing, 
online, or through a designated point of contact).
     Build in mechanisms for meeting attendees to ask 
questions, express concerns and propose solutions.
     During the meeting, talk about participants' concerns and 
questions (rather than simply ``taking note'' of them).
     Recognize that community members may be concerned about a 
variety of things--within and outside the permit applicant's control--
including matters that do not relate to the permit under discussion 
(e.g., truck routes, delivery times, etc.).
    [cir] Careful listening and an effort to understand the underlying 
interests behind related and seemingly unrelated complaints might yield 
a solution that addresses community member's true concerns at a 
reasonable (or even minimal) cost to the facility.
     Consider using a neutral facilitator to assist in 
designing an effective public participation process and conduct 
meetings to encourage all participants (permit applicant and community) 
to listen effectively, focus on interests rather than initial 
positions, and to identify potential solutions.

5. Follow Up

    Follow-up can be crucial in building a strong partnership with a 
community. The repeated interaction that follow-up provides can create 
a predictable pattern of engagement that is conducive to building 
trust. When a permit applicant delivers on commitments made during 
meetings (e.g., to provide additional information) a permit applicant 
demonstrates responsibility, integrity and commitment to the process. 
The following promising practices can help permit applicants design 
follow-up activities with communities.
     If the public is invited to comment on plans, discuss the 
comments with community members after considering them.
    [cir] If a comment is not clear, ask for clarification; do not 
ignore a suggestion due to a lack of understanding.
    [cir] Report back to let community members know how their comments 
affected the permit applicant's planning or operation.
    [cir] Explain when comments cannot be incorporated into the permit 
applicant's planned actions.
     Consider using a good neighborhood agreement to 
memorialize agreements between permit applicants and communities.
     Make environmental performance records available to 
community members without being asked, especially regarding pollution 
matters that are important to some communities.
     Keep the conversation going even after the permit has been 
issued; maintaining a collaborative relationship with some communites 
can pay benefits at unexpected times.
    Provide opportunities for communities to give feedback on the 
public engagement strategy, through a formal evaluation or informally 
through questionnaires, interviews, comment boxes, or debriefs.

[[Page 27231]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN09MY13.004

V. Return on Investment: Benefits of Outreach to Permit Applicants

    EPA recognizes that a permit applicant would need to invest time, 
energy and money in order to reach out to the neighboring communities. 
For some permit applicants, ``business as usual'' might appear to be 
the path of least resistance. But EPA has learned from conversations 
with permittees that permit applicants that engage in effective 
outreach with neighboring communities can realize a meaningful return 
on that investment. The list below reflects these conversations. To 
further illustrate these ideas, we present text (in italics) from 
corporate mission statements, lists of corporate values, and annual 
reports linking overarching business principles to benefits from 
effective community outreach and engagement.
    1. The neighborhood has a stake in a permit applicant's success. 
Community members are not only neighbors, but also often employees, 
customers or investors. Healthy and sustainable

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companies directly promote healthy and sustainable communities. That 
alignment of interests can lead to creative solutions that promote the 
achievement of mutual economic goals in more sustainable ways. We are 
proud of our involvement in the communities where we operate. It's our 
goal not only to support important projects in the communities where we 
operate, but also to partner and build relationships where we live and 
work. We always listen to local needs and find ways to invest that are 
relevant to our business.
    2. An environment of trust pays dividends throughout the permit 
term. A permit applicant not only applies for a permit but also 
develops strategies for complying with its requirements. Meaningful 
public engagement during the permitting process and throughout the 
permit term can be a valuable component of a permit applicant's 
compliance strategy. Community members often say they have nowhere to 
turn when they worry about their local environment; a meaningful 
dialogue with the permit applicant that addresses community members' 
concerns can build trust. So, a permit applicant that experiences a 
failure of its treatment processes--and, in real time, discloses and 
takes action to remedy the problem--may maintain its reservoir of trust 
within a community. We know you have questions; call us. We believe 
that people work best when there's a foundation of trust.
    3. Engaging with a community is an effective cost-containment 
strategy. Permit applicants that foster meaningful community outreach 
incur ``costs'' in terms of time, resources energy, and money. But a 
permit applicant that bypasses outreach incurs costs as well, 
especially when these choices lead to misunderstandings with community 
members. Even if the permit is granted, at what cost? Certainly, the 
permit applicant incurs the cost of delay, negative publicity among 
peers and investors, and community distrust (even apart from attorneys' 
fees associated with litigation). Each of these costs has a monetary 
value and each is potentially avoidable with an upfront investment. 
Good business sense often dictates a small investment early in order to 
avert larger costs later. Corporate leaders tell us that meaningful 
community outreach is no different. Successful companies engage in 
long-term planning to achieve strategic goals. Working with the 
community during project development and implementation is just part of 
the process.
    4. Engaging with a community is an effective risk management 
strategy. Thoughtful risk-taking is a characteristic of many successful 
enterprises. A permit applicant engaged in thoughtful risk-taking 
around a new idea routinely gathers information and critically examines 
the idea from many perspectives, identifies the range of possible 
risks, modifies its idea as appropriate to minimize the risks, and then 
weighs the benefits against the risks that remain. The better a permit 
applicant anticipates and manages the risks, the more predictable and 
successful the outcome. Engaging community members early in a permit 
applicant's decision-making process can be an effective way to manage 
the risks of a new idea. A permit applicant that is truly open to 
gathering information, dialogue, and collaboration will find itself 
with a more predictable operating or business environment, reduced 
conflict, and, frequently, an outcome that achieves greater operational 
efficiency and community support. Its risk-taking is thoughtful because 
it identifies, analyzes and manages its risks. Permit applicants that 
are thoughtful risk-takers recognize that having an engaged and 
informed community as an ally promotes reasonable expectations among 
the public and, therefore, more predictable outcomes. We practice 
humility and intellectual honesty. We consistently seek to understand 
and constructively deal with reality in order to create value and 
achieve personal improvement.
    5. A permit applicant that engages meaningfully with a community is 
more likely to be considered a good neighbor. A permit applicant is 
more likely to be seen as a good neighbor by a community when it makes 
efforts to engage and build a relationship with the community. Having 
treated community members as good neighbors, the permit applicant is 
more likely to be treated as a good neighbor by community members in 
return. A community that understands the actual impacts a facility has 
on the neighborhood and trusts the facility to behave responsibly may 
also be less likely to hold the facility responsible for other 
facilities' pollution. We are committed to improving our environmental 
performance: we track our progress and report our results to the 
public.
    6. Investors prefer good corporate citizens. Even if a permit 
applicant survives a dispute with a community over a new project and 
obtains the necessary environmental permits, investors may well inquire 
whether that costly battle could have been avoided. Indeed, some 
investors might even wonder whether the permit applicant's inadequate 
response to the neighboring community's concerns signals a lack of 
corporate responsibility, values-based leadership, or long-term 
strategic thinking that is important in other areas of the business. 
Leaders in this area say: It is more important than ever that we 
continually earn investor confidence. We will do this by remaining a 
leader in good corporate governance and providing clear, consistent, 
and truthful communication about our performance.

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VI. Conclusion

    The promising practices are a starting point intended to promote 
partnerships between communities and permit applicants. EPA believes 
that a permit applicant that follows the promising practices will take 
an important step on the path to building a fruitful and cooperative 
relationship with community members on environmental issues. EPA also 
believes that a permit applicant's efforts to meaningfully engage an 
overburdened community are an important way to promote environmental 
justice. EPA agrees with the message that many stakeholders send: 
Collaborations between permit applicants and the surrounding 
neighborhoods achieve greater environmental protections, more 
profitable operations, and more sustainable communities.
[FR Doc. 2013-10945 Filed 5-8-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6560-50-P