On March 15, 2023, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released draft guidance on Environmental Justice in the Permitting Process. The draft guidance outlines procedures for the state to accomplish goals set forth in the Virginia Environmental Justice Act. This draft guidance is open for informal public comment until May 1, 2023.

DEQ established an Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) in April 2021 in response to the enactment of the Virginia Environmental Justice Act during the 2020 Session of the Virginia General Assembly. The draft guidance outlines how DEQ will ensure meaningful involvement and fair treatment in their environmental permitting actions for air, water, and land. All permit actions, including General Permits and Permits by Rule, will be evaluated to determine if they are within an EJ community. However, only those “Permits of Concern” located in an EJ community will require “meaningful involvement.”

Some examples of “Permits of Concern” include construction of new major source air permits (or modification to a major source permit), wetland permits with wetland impacts greater than 10 acres or stream impacts greater than 25,000 linear feet, new or expanded individual surface water withdrawals, and new or expanded solid waste landfills.

It is important to note that even if a proposed project is not a “Permit of Concern”, the draft guidance allows the DEQ to review projects on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, community concern on a specific permit located within an EJ community could result in the need for meaningful involvement regardless of whether the action is a “Permit of Concern.” Additionally, DEQ notes that 59 percent of the population of the Commonwealth is identified as an EJ Community.

While the guidance does provide a table outlining the Permits of Concern and a Public Engagement Matrix for Permitting, it does not provide specific information on timing of the meaningful involvement or fair treatment procedures, thus it remains unclear if this process will extend the anticipated permit approval timeframes of the associated permits.

Map of EJ Communities in Virginia, shown in blue, red, and purple polygons

DEQ’s draft guidance included this map to show all Environmental Justice Communities in Virginia as determined by census block group: Low Income Communities (red) and Communities of Color (blue). Purple blocks represent the overlap of both of those Communities.

WSSI Can Help

We are tracking this issue closely and have specialists in Regulatory and Environmental Justice Policy and Concerns.



  • Christie Blevins, PWS, CESSWI, LEED AP

    Director - Regulatory

    Gainesville, VA

  • Bob Kerr, SPWS, PWD

    Director - Hampton Roads

    Virginia Beach, VA

  • Abby Spotswood

    Environmental Technician

    Blacksburg, VA