November 29, 2022

Volume XII, Number 333

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November 28, 2022

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EPA Launches New National Office Dedicated to Advancing Environmental Justice and Civil Rights

WASHINGTON – Today, EPA announced that it is establishing a new national office charged with advancing environmental justice and civil rights. The creation of the new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights delivers on President Biden’s commitment to elevate these critical issues to the highest levels of the government and solidifies the agency’s commitment to delivering justice and equity for all.

The new office will dedicate more than 200 EPA staff in EPA headquarters and across 10 regions towards solving environmental challenges in communities that have been underserved for far too long. These staff will engage with communities with environmental justice concerns to understand their needs, as well as Tribal, state, and local partners; manage and disburse historic levels of grants and technical assistance; work with other EPA offices to incorporate environmental justice into the agency’s programs, policies, and processes, as allowed by law; and ensure EPA funding recipients comply with applicable civil rights laws. The office will be led by a U.S. Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator, to be announced at a later date.

“President Biden and I have been clear: we must ground our work to address the climate crisis and our greatest environmental challenges in justice and equity,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. “The establishment of a new office dedicated to advancing environmental justice and civil rights at EPA will ensure the lived experiences of underserved communities are central to our decision-making while supporting community-driven solutions.”

“From day one, President Biden and EPA have been committed to delivering progress on environmental justice and civil rights and ensuring that underserved and overburdened communities are at the forefront of our work,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “With the launch of a new national program office, we are embedding environmental justice and civil rights into the DNA of EPA and ensuring that people who’ve struggled to have their concerns addressed see action to solve the problems they’ve been facing for generations.”

Administrator Regan announced the creation of the new office alongside environmental justice and civil rights leaders in Warren County, North Carolina, which was the site of protests 40 years ago that launched the environmental justice movement.

The new office will oversee the implementation and delivery of a $3 billion climate and environmental justice block grant program created by the Inflation Reduction Act, a critical component of the law’s historic $60 billion investment in environmental justice. The office also will ensure EPA’s implementation of other funding programs provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and regular appropriations meet or exceed the President’s Justice40 Initiative.

The new office is the latest significant action under President Biden’s aggressive approach to embed environmental justice, civil rights, and equity across the government, and follows the launch of several initiatives designed to address the impacts faced by those living in underserved communities overburdened by pollution. Initiatives include the establishment of the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC); the launch of the Justice40 Initiative, which aims to provide 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal investments relating to climate change, clean energy, and related areas to disadvantaged communities; and more than 200 policy actions to move the President’s ambitious environmental justice and civil rights agenda forward.

Background

EPA created the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights Office by merging three existing programs at the agency: the Office of Environmental Justice, External Civil Rights Compliance Office, and Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center. The new office will:

  • Improve and enhance the agency’s ability to infuse equity, civil rights, and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs.

  • Support the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.

  • Engage communities with environmental justice concerns and increase support for community-led action through grants and technical assistance.

  • Enforce federal civil rights laws that, together, prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin (including on the basis of limited-English proficiency); sex; disability; or age by applicants for and recipients of federal financial assistance from EPA.

  • Provide services and expertise in alternative dispute resolution, environmental conflict resolution, consensus-building, and collaborative problem solving.

Broad coalition voices support for new national program

Dr. Beverly Wright, Founder and Executive Director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice: “EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights will create new and environmentally favorable opportunities for communities disproportionately impacted by decades of environmental injustice. It will also effectively hold polluters legally accountable for civil rights violations. After generations of denial and inaction, it is a testament to the progress the environmental justice movement has made to see the Biden Administration recognize and take action on the institutional and structural racism that exists within climate policy. Through this new effort, funding and resources will finally make it to the communities that need it most. Our fight for environmental justice will continue, but we are encouraged by this important step forward.”

Dr. Robert Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University: “For decades, communities of color and low-income communities have faced disproportionate impacts from environmental contamination and for decades we have been fighting to elevate their stories and deliver protections equally, for everyone. This work to advance environmental justice goes hand in hand with the fight for civil rights, and EPA’s efforts under this new office will deliver progress for the communities that need action now.”

Congressman G.K. Butterfield (NC): “This is an historic day – not just for Warren County, North Carolina where the environmental justice movement began, but for the millions of Americans all across this country who have been demanding and fighting tirelessly for environmental justice for decades. I commend President Biden, Vice President Harris, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan on their work to create the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights. Today’s announcement, which comes on the heels of the historic climate and environmental justice investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, is another bold example that the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress will ensure every community has a voice and the investments needed to grow and thrive. Working together, we will solve the climate crisis and make America’s clean energy economy the envy of the world.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper: “For too long, our underserved communities have been disproportionately impacted by climate change and unfair environmental impacts. That's why we’re focused on moving North Carolina toward a more equitable, clean energy future for all, and this new office will help our state and country get there even sooner."

Senator Tom Carper, Chair of Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (DE): “As Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a co-founder of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, I applaud this move by Administrator Regan to create EPA’s first-ever Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights. 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. That is why having a single, mission-driven office led by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator is so critical. I’m confident this office will elevate EPA’s role in advancing environmental justice, especially as the agency works to implement the historic climate and equity investments in the Inflation Reduction Act.”

Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., Chair of House Committee on Energy and Commerce  (NJ): “With the opening of this important new office, the Biden EPA is once again demonstrating genuine commitment to environmental justice communities and ensuring that they won’t be overlooked or disregarded. I commend Administrator Regan for bringing this vision to life. EJ communities are most at risk, and yet they are the ones that have historically been most underserved — but today I am optimistic that together we will right those wrongs, and I’m looking forward to working with this new office to ensure that we do.”

Senator Jeff Merkley, Chair of Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (OR): “While climate chaos will affect us all, we’ve already seen that heat waves, deadly air pollution, and other burdens fall disproportionately on communities of color and marginalized communities with the fewest resources. As Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I personally approved the creation of this new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights and worked hard to secure an unprecedented increase to $100 million in FY22 funding for the office. I look forward to partnering with this team as we continue to mitigate racial inequities, tackle environmental justice concerns, and work to ensure every American in every community has clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and green spaces to enjoy.”

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Chair of House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (ME-01): “As Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, I have fought to ensure environmental justice programs receive the funding they have long needed to uplift our most vulnerable while protecting the environment. I am grateful that President Biden has been a partner in our efforts to comprehensively protect American communities from environmental hazards. With the launch of a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, the Biden administration has not only solidified its commitment to environmental justice, it has also made a historic step toward environmental equity for all Americans.”

Senators Cory Booker (NJ) and Tammy Duckworth (IL), Co-Chairs of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus: “For too long, our most toxic, polluting industries have been located next door to Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities at the expense of their health while too many in power have looked the other way. Racial justice, civil rights and equity should be prioritized in every aspect of our nation—including in environmental justice and climate action. We’re proud to see that EPA is continuing to heed the calls of our Environmental Justice Caucus and countless EJ advocates by launching this office to help protect long-underserved communities.”

Congressman A. Donald McEachin, Co-Chair of House Environmental Justice Task Force (VA-04): “I applaud President Joe Biden and EPA Administrator Michael Regan for their continued commitment to prioritizing and advancing environmental justice. We cannot combat the climate crisis without confronting environmental injustice, and today's announcement is recognition of this fact. The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights is a welcomed addition, especially as federal investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act are dispersed to states and localities. Together, we will continue fighting to ensure no community is left behind.”

Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán, Co-Chair of House Environmental Justice Task Force (CA-44): “This new office demonstrates EPA’s deep commitment to environmental justice, and its creation comes at a critical time in our fight against the climate crisis. It will help EPA implement the unprecedented investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, including $3 billion in climate and environmental justice grants I secured. The Office will strengthen EPA’s partnership with environmental justice communities in my district and throughout the country to reduce pollution and hold polluters accountable.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Co-Chair of House Environmental Justice Task Force (WA-07): “It is apparently clear that any bold action we take to address the climate crisis must be rooted in environmental justice. Too many of our marginalized communities have suffered environmental injustice for far too long. President Biden and EPA Administrator Michael Regan understand this. The establishment of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights marks the Biden Administration’s continued commitment towards ensuring that our marginalized communities aren’t left behind as we seek to leave a healthy planet for the generations that come after us. I look forward to continuing working with the Administration in pursuit of that goal.”

© Copyright 2022 United States Environmental Protection AgencyNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 267
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EPA

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency or the EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

EPA's purpose is to ensure that:

  • all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively;
  • environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies...
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