- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order Wednesday directing Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to review its operations and evaluate changes in federal environmental regulations since President Donald Trump took office.

The governor said in a statement announcing the order that it will ensure the department, which marked its 25th anniversary earlier this week and has seen budget cuts over the past 10 years, has all it needs to do its job.

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

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The Department of Environmental Quality, which some critics contend is too cozy with the industries it regulates, has faced criticism recently for its review of two proposed natural gas pipelines and communications with the public about the projects. The news also came two days after Northam reappointed the department’s long-serving director to continue in his post, a move that drew a mixed but largely negative reaction from environmental groups.

The order directs the department to review its permitting, monitoring, and enforcement activities across the air, water, and solid waste programs and provide a report by April 30, 2019.

While the order doesn’t mention the president by name, it also directs the department to evaluate every “proposed federal regulatory or guidance modification” released after the day of Trump’s inauguration. The department will consider the impacts on public health and natural resources and whether any change in federal protections alters DEQ’s authority.

Since Trump has taken office, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has worked to methodically roll back air and water regulations opposed by fossil fuel and other industry groups.

A press release about Northam’s order included statements of support from several environmental leaders, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the American Lung Association.

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

Other environmental groups, while saying they supported the intent of the order, offered a more critical response.

“Virginians are suffering environmental consequences now, and undertaking a lengthy review will result in further delayed action, which won’t help those in the path of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, or in the shadow of polluting facilities,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.

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