EPA Announces Renewed Focus on Environmental Justice
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced environmental justice as one the agency’s priorities for 2010. EPA intends to focus its outreach to communities that have been historically underrepresented and on protecting subpopulations that are particularly at risk, like children. EPA recently published interim guidance on evaluating whether a project raises environmental justice issues and recently announced Plan EJ 2014, a agency roadmap for evaluating environmental justice considerations, scheduled to go into effect on the 20th anniversary of the original executive order (Executive order 12898 (Feb. 11, 1994)). According to the EPA,
“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.”
EPA issued its Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action on July 22, 2010. This document provides EPA staff with a step-by-step guide to determine whether a potential action (permit, enforcement, rulemaking, etc.) raises any environmental justice issues. Under this guidance an environmental justice issue exists when the action will cause a “disproportionate” impact on a minority, low-income or indigenous community. The factors that EPA looks at include the proximity of the susceptible population to the action, the potential exposure pathways, whether there are multiple or cumulative effects of exposure and whether the community has the ability to actively participate in the decision-making process.
EPA also announces the creation of an environmental justice roadmap called Plan EJ 2014. This roadmap will help EPA incorporate environmental justice considerations into all of its decisions. The goals of the plan are to: protect health in communities over-burdened by pollution, empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment, and establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities. Plan EJ 2014 is not a rule, but it does provide a policy framework for the EPA to follow when conducting its actions.
The renewed focus on environmental justice will likely impact facility permit renewals, especially for those facilities in disproportionately impacted communities. Industry will likely have to address the EPA’s environmental justice concerns head on during the permitting process. The new guidance could have far-reaching effects, as permit applicants will likely have to address, in a very public manner, how their actions will affect an impacted community. Thus, the way a company approaches the environmental justice issues has the potential to impact seriously its reputation.
Complicating EPA’s focus on environmental justice will likely be a national focus on job creation. While job creation and environmental justice need not be at odds with each other, there is a perceived discordance. Low income areas, currently suffering from a decrease in manufacturing or construction employment, see their only way out of poverty as the creation of manufacturing jobs, which inevitably bring increases in localized pollution in potentially heavily industrial and overburdened areas. A renewed focus on environmental justice may make some companies hesitate before reopening facilities or breaking ground on new developments in these areas.
The public is invited to comment on the current draft of the interim guidance and Plan EJ 2014 until April 29, 2011. If you have any questions regarding how EPA’s current Environmental Justice priorities your facility or permit, contact us at 773-609-5320 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or through our web contact form.
Disclaimer: This article cannot, and does not, create any attorney/client or consultant/client relationship.