But understanding the details of public comment is just a starting place; to be an effective participant, you need to know how to write substantive comments that are unique and fact-based. Our workshop participants sat down with several examples of public comments written by informed citizens and professional organizations. Lively discussions started over the strengths and weaknesses of each; one comment's format was easy to read, one comment included a perspective from a local community member, one comment ended with a bibliography for all of the research that was cited.
The discussions continued and expanded over pizza during a quick dinner break. As I wandered between small groups, I was inspired by the different backgrounds, unique perspectives, and common passion held by everyone in the room. It was difficult to return from the break not because of people's reluctance, but rather their enthusiasm, for the topics at hand; we could have spent another hour in informal discussions on public comment and the material presented in the first half of the workshop.
But of course, we had yet to reach the heart of the workshop: writing public comments to decision-makers on the state and federal level. Our workshop coordinators from the Climate Justice Working Group - Elliot Koontz, Sam Pennypacker, and Judy Twedt - had searched through numerous open comment opportunities to find rules related to public health, environmental protections, and safe working environments. They had settled on one state, and two federal, opportunities: (1) The Environmental Protection Agency's draft strategic plan for 2018 - 2022, (2) the draft Environmental Impact Statement on development for production from the Liberty oil field off of the coast of Alaska, and (3) Puget Sound Energy's Integrated Resource Plan. Each had then dedicated time before the workshop to become intimately familiar with the language, supplementary information, and implications of each proposed action.
Elliot, Sam and Judy presented each opportunity to all of the workshop participants, and then everyone split into smaller groups based on which of the three comment opportunities they wanted to focus on. Here, again, lively discussion arose, each person bringing a different perspective and new information to the table.
Until suddenly, the library was near closing time.
I had been nervous that I would be overwhelmed to move from workshops on volunteer training to practicing effective public comment techniques. But from the minute we started talking about the public comment process, to collecting our materials at the end of the evening, I completely forgot my nerves and was instead overwhelmed by positive and enthusiastic response of everyone who attended.