Open Letter to Governor Sununu on COVID-19
Dear Governor Sununu:
As members of New Hampshire’s conservation community, we are writing to express our appreciation for your Administration’s hard work in addressing the unprecedented public health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus, and to urge vigilance in protecting our state’s natural resources and the public health. As you know, our organizations have a long history of working on a range of environmental and public health issues with your office, state agencies and people throughout the Granite State. We are part of the community and feel the impact of this crisis along with all of our friends and neighbors.
We understand that in the context of a crisis of this scale, sometimes steps must be taken that deviate from the norm to address acute needs. At the same time, and with important progress over the years to protect and restore the health of our environment and communities, we want to ensure that any actions taken by the state during this crisis are consistent with and do not undermine New Hampshire’s efforts to advance environmental protection and our communities’ health and safety. In addition to important ecological and community health benefits, our natural resources provide enormous economic benefits for the state – benefits which would be jeopardized if, in the short term, needed protections were weakened.
In light of these considerations, and following the April 9, 2020 issuance of Emergency Order No. 29 (“Temporary modification to executive branch deadlines and requirements”) pursuant to Executive Order 2020-04 as extended by Executive Order 2020-05, we request that you provide all necessary leadership and guidance to ensure that all state agencies, boards, commissions, and similar executive branch entities involved in the protection of New Hampshire’s environment and public health adhere to the following principles and take the following actions with regard to any changes in practice, process, or policy in response to the COVID-19 crisis:
- Any criteria or standard adopted to protect the environment and public health – whether in rule or in statute – should not be weakened.
- Any requests by or on behalf of regulated entities to suspend or change requirements contained in statute, rule, or applicable permits, or to suspend or change policies or protocols, and decisions on any such requests, should be published on the website of the relevant agency or office, with the opportunity for public review.
- Any change to protocols, policies, practices, or requirements related to environmental and public health protection, including enforcement of environmental and public health laws, should state the specific rationale for the change; be made on a case by case basis; be narrowly defined; be limited to impacts that are directly related to the public health emergency; be temporary; and under no circumstances authorize actions that will result in harm to public health or the environment.
- Any changes to the decision-making process for permits that affect the environment or public health should still allow for the public to have meaningful input into the permitting decision in a manner that complies with current guidelines for social distancing.
- Any delay to a proposed rule or policy required by law should be allowed only after consideration of the rationale for the delay and the impact of the delay on the environment and public health.
- Any recommended or adopted changes in practice, process, policy, or requirements related to environmental or public health protections should be made available to the public on the relevant agency’s website (for example, the Department of Environmental Services’ current “NHDES Response to COVID 19” webpage), even if incorporated into Emergency Order No. 29 as an exhibit.
Again, we appreciate the magnitude and importance of the challenge at hand for your Administration and the people of New Hampshire in addressing this unprecedented crisis. Given the importance of our natural resources to our state’s economy and quality of life, we request your leadership to ensure that progress and protections related to our environment and public health are not jeopardized. This leadership is now more important than ever – particularly at a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is stepping back on certain enforcement activities. A strong New Hampshire economy is directly linked to the health of our natural resources and our communities.
We look forward to continuing to work with you and your Administration to ensure that New Hampshire’s environment and public health are protected in these challenging times.
Vice President for Conservation
Appalachian Mountain Club
Alli Gold Roberts
Director – State Policy
Vice President & CLF New Hampshire Director
Conservation Law Foundation
New Hampshire State Director
League of Conservation Voters
Director of External Affairs
The Nature Conservancy
New Hampshire Association of Conservation Commissions
Joan H. Ascheim, MSN
New Hampshire Public Health Association
New Hampshire Sierra Club
Public Policy Manager
Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
New Hampshire State Director
Community Action Works, Inc.
Roger W. Stephenson
Northeast Regional Advocacy Director
Union of Concerned Scientists