- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The review board for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday set aside a request to enable the public to comment on proposed state environmental regulations by email after being told the petition needed the department director’s endorsement before the council could vote on it.

The department has been developing a way for the public to submit written comments through its website. One problem with email comments is any intercepted by the state’s spam filters might never be read, department Director Todd Parfitt told the state Environmental Quality Council.

“Electronic comment is something we need to evolve to,” Parfitt said. “We were working toward those capabilities before this request was filed.”

The council voted 6-0 to table the petition filed by two groups, the Powder River Basin Resource Council and Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development, after Senior Assistant Attorney General Dave Ross said the petition needed Parfitt’s approval before the council could vote.

That brought the council’s authority under question. Council Executive Director Jim Ruby disagreed with Ross, saying state law gives the council the power to consider petitions directly to it independently of the department director’s positive or negative recommendation.

“The statute says ‘recommendation,’” Ruby said. “It doesn’t say ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’”

Most Wyoming agencies take written comments electronically, but the Department of Environmental Quality still requires them to be written on paper and submitted in person, mailed or faxed. Yet the department receives perhaps more public comments than any other state agency, according to Parfitt.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accepts more than 4 million public comments by email every year without problem, Powder River Basin Resource Council attorney Shannon Anderson told the council.

“Everyone has email now and it really would allow a greater amount of public participation,” Anderson said.

The groups first asked the department back in 2010 to consider accepting emailed comments, according to their petition.

The department could be in a position to begin taking public comments later this year, Parfitt said.


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