Special Topics in Environmental Management

EPA Sets Directives for Advancing Environmental Justice

On April 7, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced specific directives for all Agency offices to better serve historically marginalized environmental justice communities (EJC).

EPA sign, Environmental Protection Agency

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The EPA’s definition of “environmental justice” is “the 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,” according to an EPA press release.

All Agency offices are now directed to:

  1. “Strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution.
  2. Take immediate and affirmative steps to incorporate environmental justice considerations into their work, including assessing impacts to pollution-burdened, underserved, and Tribal communities in regulatory development processes and to consider regulatory options to maximize benefits to these communities.
  3. Take immediate and affirmative steps to improve early and more frequent engagement with pollution-burdened and underserved communities affected by agency rulemakings, permitting and enforcement decisions, and policies. Following President Biden’s memorandum on strengthening the Nation-to-Nation relationship with Tribal Nations, EPA staff should engage in regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal officials in the development of federal policies that have Tribal implications.
  4. Consistent with the Administration’s Justice 40 initiative, consider and prioritize direct and indirect benefits to underserved communities in the development of requests for grant applications and in making grant award decisions, to the extent allowed by law.”

“Too many communities whose residents are predominantly of color, Indigenous, or low-income continue to suffer from disproportionately high pollution levels and the resulting adverse health and environmental impacts,” said Regan in a message to all Agency staff, according to the press release. “We must do better.  This will be one of my top priorities as Administrator, and I expect it to be one of yours as well.”

As part of the Agency’s efforts to better serve EJC communities, Regan is participating in a series of roundtables to meet with EJC representatives, leaders, and advocates to learn more about the pollution burdens these communities face.

“These meetings include one with national Environmental Justice leaders, a Congressional roundtable with the co-chairs of the Senate EJ Caucus, Senator Tom Carper and Senator Corey Booker along with the co-chairs of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force, Congresswoman Nanette Barragán and Congressman Donald McEachin, followed by a meeting with mayors and city councilmembers in the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.”

The Agency’s Environmental Justice website has been updated to reflect these changes. The site includes information about $6 million in grant funding available for EJC communities, with a May 7, 2021, application deadline. There are currently two programs available: EJ Small Grants Program and the EJ Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program.

The site also includes information about a new initiative the EPA is launching: Environmental Justice and Systemic Racism Speaker Series and the National Environmental Justice Public Engagement Calls.