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“Far too many of our most disadvantaged Americans continue to live in communities where clean water clean air, and a healthy environment aren’t a reality.” ~ Senator Tom Carper, Chair of Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (DE).
Environmental justice (EJ) seeks to provide “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – EPA).
Almost immediately upon taking office, the Biden-Harris Administration took swift and significant action to promote EJ efforts. Executive Order (EO) 13990 Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis and EO 14008 Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad both direct federal agencies to develop EJ strategies to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental impacts of their programs on minority and/or low-income populations. The Justice40 Initiative has made it a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments are funneled to disadvantaged communities overburdened by pollution. And EPA’s FY 2022-2026 Plan added a fourth principal to support Biden’s Justice40 initiative—advance justice and equity—and states that “EJ and civil rights will be embedded into EPA’s programs, policies, and activities to reduce disparities in environmental and public health conditions.”
The focus on EJ continues to gain momentum with a slew of additional significant actions taken recently to further elevate EJ priorities and deliver on the Administration’s promises to advance justice and equity.
Inflation Reduction Act
On August 12, 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 passed. The IRA grants funding to EPA to help accelerate EJ efforts in the following areas.
|Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reduction Fund||$27 billion||Provide financing to support GHG reduction projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities.|
|Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants||$3 billion||Empower community efforts and advance EJ projects (e.g., community-led air pollution monitoring, prevention, and remediation; mitigating climate and health risks from extreme heat and wildfires; climate resiliency and adaptation; and reducing indoor air pollution).|
|Protecting Children||$50 million||Provide grants and technical assistance to schools serving low-income communities to address environmental issues, develop school environmental quality plans, mitigate air pollution hazards, and improve health and safety for students and staff.|
|Clean Ports||$3 billion||Provide funding for zero-emission port equipment/technology and to help ports develop climate action plans.|
|Superfund Petroleum Tax||$11.7 billion||Reinstate the Superfund petroleum tax to help ensure polluters are held accountable for the true cost of cleanup work.|
|Enforcement Technology||$25 million||Hold polluters accountable by improving enforcement technology; target enforcement on several of the nation’s environmental laws (e.g., Clean Water Act (CWA), Clean Air Act (CAA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)).|
|Cleaner Emissions from Trucks and Heavy-Duty Vehicles||$1 billion||Support a zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.|
New EPA Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights
On September 24, 2022, EPA announced a new national Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights to help elevate EJ to the highest levels of government. According to EPA, this office will commit more than 200 staff in EPA headquarters and across 10 regions to help solve environmental challenges in underserved communities. The intent of this office is to:
- Improve EPA’s ability to incorporate equity, civil rights, and EJ principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs.
- Support the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people in development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
- Engage communities with EJ concerns and increase support for community-led action through grants and technical assistance.
- Enforce federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, or national origin; sex; disability; or age by applicants for and recipients of EPA federal financial assistance.
- Provide services and expertise in alternative dispute resolution, environmental conflict resolution, consensus building, and collaborative problem solving.
The new office will ensure that implementation of the IRA’s funding programs meet the Justice40 Initiative. Office staff will also work with the Office of Land and Emergency Management to equitably carry out EPA’s final EJ Action Plan (see below).
Environmental Justice Action Plan for Land Protection and Cleanup Programs
September 30, 2022, EPA announced its finalized EJ Action Plan: Building Up Environmental Justice in EPA’s Land Protection and Cleanup Programs (EJ Action Plan). The plan outlines projects, tools, and practices to be applied to the Superfund, Brownfields, Emergency Response, Solid Waste Management, RCRA Corrective Action, and Underground Storage Tank (UST) programs to improve the quality of cleanups in communities with EJ concerns.
The EJ Action Plan is supported by Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments, including $1 billion to initiate cleanup of 49 previously underfunded Superfund sites and accelerate cleanup at dozens of other sites.
EPA states four main goals for the EJ Action Plan:
- Strengthen compliance with cornerstone environmental statutes by developing a “Good Governance” process and referral list to help address communities’ ongoing environmental concerns.
- Incorporate EJ considerations during the regulatory development process by assessing impacts to pollution-burdened, underserved, and tribal communities when developing regulations and tools to identify, track, and consider the implications of EJ-related factors throughout the Superfund process.
- Improve community engagement in rulemakings, permitting decisions, and policies by providing earlier and more frequent engagement with pollution-burdened and underserved communities and increasing technical support and risk communication resources.
- Implement President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative through grant application resources and grant award decisions.
Improved Environmental Management
With EPA focused on more regulations, more enforcement, and improved climate change and EJ, environmental management needs to play an integral role in company strategy. Companies must take the time to be informed, be prepared, and be proactive. Establish companywide priorities and goals and commit the appropriate resources to ensure programs and systems are in place to achieve regulatory compliance and align with EPA’s priorities for the future.
If you would like help evaluating your current risk level and assessing your priorities, please contact KTL.