Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality has launched an online commenting system to help the public weigh in on agency decisions.
“This electronic system allows the public to easily submit comments and upload supporting documents in response to public notices,” DEQ Director Todd Parfitt said in a statement. “It enables the agency to organize and respond to comments effectively and efficiently, while providing a better service to the public.”
The system could help the agency avoid conflicts about public notice and comments — like the one that has embroiled the DEQ regarding its effort to reclassify recreational waterways to allow more E. coli bacteria. The federal Environmental Protection Agency criticized the state for not meeting requirements to give public notice of a hearing on the issue at which comments would be recorded.
Wyoming has rejected those criticisms but will honor the federal request instead of spending time and money challenging the EPA in court. (Read the WyoFile story Water hearing to be held under protest.)
The hearing on recreational water reclassification is set for Sept. 16 in Casper. The new comment system was not developed in time to accept input on the water reclassification, agency spokesman Keith Guille said.
Wyoming’s DEQ has worked for about two years seeking ways to better communicate with the public, Guille said Tuesday. First, it needed a better website, which it now has, thanks to an upgrade.
It also sought a better public-notice system to accompany the website, he said. That’s also been acquired and today interested members of the public can get on more than a dozen DEQ mailing lists, he said.
“We needed to get all that work done first,” Guille said. He then began investigating methods to submit and receive comments, and that system was announced Tuesday.
As noted by Parfitt, the internet system allows people to comment and send attachments and also helps DEQ organize its responses to those comments.
“It will be assisting our agency as well,” Guille said.
The system will be employed next to accept comments on the DEQ’s Pavillion Investigation Report, the updated draft document related to oil and gas development, and the Air Quality Monitor Network Assessment. Pavillion is the Fremont County community where some residents blame fracking for pollution of their water wells.
“Pavillion will be a really great opportunity for the public to submit its comments,” Guille said.
In the most recent public-participation dust-up regarding recreational waters, DEQ’s proposed to reclassify 87,775 miles of streams — 76 percent of the state’s waterways — from primary to secondary recreational status. DEQ believes a model it used for the proposed reclassification accurately reflects which streams are not capable of being used for recreation.
The change would allow five times more E. coli in secondary waterways compared to primary ones. Some conservation groups have complained they weren’t properly informed about the proposal.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency said it couldn’t approve Wyoming’s E. coli reclassification proposal until the state holds the public hearing. The EPA will examine public comments and the state’s response to them before deciding whether to accept Wyoming’s reclassification.