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Don’t Settle for Less – New Federal Tools for EJ Advocacy

Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice (EJ) advo­cates have new tools and oppor­tu­ni­ties for engage­ment at the fed­er­al lev­el because of many fed­er­al actions on EJ dur­ing the first half of 2022. Here we high­light four devel­op­ments and what they might mean for advocates.

  • In May, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice (DOJ) pub­lished a rule re-autho­riz­ing DOJ to use Sup­ple­men­tal Envi­ron­men­tal Projects (SEPs) in set­tle­ments. In exchange for a reduced civ­il penal­ty, DOJ may require defen­dants in envi­ron­men­tal enforce­ment cas­es to com­plete SEPs which ben­e­fit human health and the envi­ron­ment, like devel­op­ing an asth­ma screen­ing pro­gram as part of a Clean Air Act vio­la­tion set­tle­ment.1 Now advo­cates can push for future set­tle­ments to include SEPs that ben­e­fit affect­ed com­mu­ni­ties. Fur­ther, where a set­tle­ment includes a SEP, advo­cates can poten­tial­ly shape the pro­gram itself, pro­vid­ing feed­back to tai­lor the pro­gram to the community’s needs dur­ing the com­ment peri­od on the pro­posed set­tle­ment. In Cal­i­for­nia, state agen­cies active­ly solic­it SEP ideas from com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers,2 and EJ advo­cates at the fed­er­al lev­el can use the cri­te­ria from those solic­i­ta­tions to for­mu­late pro­pos­als for future DOJ SEPs.
  • The Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) in May released a report—EPA Legal Tools to Advance Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice—out­lin­ing EPA’s author­i­ty to advance EJ under envi­ron­men­tal and civ­il rights statutes it admin­is­ters. For advo­cates this doc­u­ment pro­vides insight on where pub­lic com­ments and engage­ment with deci­sion­mak­ers could achieve sig­nif­i­cant results. For exam­ple, the report lays out oppor­tu­ni­ties for pub­lic com­ments on per­mit­ting and the effects such com­ments can have on per­mits.3
  • In April, the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices (HHS) request­ed com­ments on its draft out­line for its Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Strat­e­gy and Imple­men­ta­tion Plan. The out­line will be the basis of the draft plan, which will guide HHS’s approach to address­ing envi­ron­men­tal injus­tices and health inequities faced by peo­ple of col­or, dis­ad­van­taged, vul­ner­a­ble, low-income, mar­gin­al­ized, and indige­nous pop­u­la­tions.” It pro­posed to empha­size six key areas: ser­vices; part­ner­ships and com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment; pol­i­cy devel­op­ment and dis­sem­i­na­tion; research and data col­lec­tion, analy­sis, and uti­liza­tion; edu­ca­tion and train­ing; and per­for­mance mea­sures. The com­ment dead­line passed, but advo­cates will like­ly have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­ment on the draft plan itself. HHS has not stat­ed when the draft plan will be released.
  • In Feb­ru­ary, the Coun­cil on Envi­ron­men­tal Qual­i­ty (CEQ) released a draft Cli­mate and Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Screen­ing Tool intend­ed to help iden­ti­fy dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties” that are mar­gin­al­ized, under­served, and over­bur­dened by pol­lu­tion” — the com­mu­ni­ties which will be eli­gi­ble for tar­get­ed ben­e­fits under the Justice40 Ini­tia­tive. The beta CEQ Tool does not include race as a fac­tor in iden­ti­fy­ing mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. A coali­tion of over 70 envi­ron­men­tal and activist groups respond­ed that exclud­ing race was wrong, because race con­tin­ues to be the most impor­tant fac­tor for pre­dict­ing a community’s expo­sure to pol­lu­tion.4 Key mem­bers of the White House Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Advi­so­ry Coun­cil (Bev­er­ly Wright, Peg­gy Shep­ard, and Robert Bullard) announced that they would devel­op an alter­na­tive tool which con­sid­ers race. If the final CEQ Tool does not include race, then advo­cates can use it to push for ben­e­fits to be direct­ed to com­mu­ni­ties that the Tool does iden­ti­fy and sup­ple­ment their advo­ca­cy with the alter­na­tive tool.

Each of these devel­op­ments presents oppor­tu­ni­ties for EJ advo­cates to con­tin­ue work­ing for EJ at the fed­er­al lev­el — whether by advo­cat­ing for SEPs to ben­e­fit affect­ed com­mu­ni­ties or using the screen­ing tools for iden­ti­fy­ing com­mu­ni­ties that should ben­e­fit from fed­er­al programs.

  1. This EPA report on SEPs out­lines the exam­ple SEP and a vari­ety of oth­er SEPs.
  2. See the Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board’s web­page solic­it­ing SEP pro­pos­als.
  3. See EPA Legal Tools to Advance Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice page 100, regard­ing per­mit­ting for haz­ardous waste facilities.
  4. See the let­ter from the coali­tion here.