Environmental Justice Update: EPA Announces $100 Million in EJ Grants to Local Groups and Issues Guidance Outlining Potential Federal "Cumulative Impact" Claims

“Environmental justice” (EJ) continues as the primary leitmotif of Biden Administration environmental policy in the first weeks of 2023. 

Below, we unpack two recently announced EJ efforts: a grant program for groups in environmentally overburdened communities and guidance on legal resources to address “cumulative impacts” issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Legal Counsel and outline what these mean for the regulated community taken together in the context of other recent EJ developments.

EPA Announces $100 Million in Grants to Community Groups

This week, EPA announced the availability of approximately $100 million in grants for projects that “advance EJ in underserved and overburdened communities.” The grant programs are part of funding allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act programs discussed here.

Summaries of the two programs:

  • The Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Program (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreement Program. The EJCPS program provides $30 million in funding directly to community-based non-profit organizations for projects focused on addressing local environmental or public health issues in their communities. Five million of the funding is reserved for small community-based nonprofit organizations with five or fewer full-time employees. EPA anticipates funding approximately 50 awards of $500,000 and 30 awards of $150,000.
  • Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) Program. EJG2G will provide an estimated $70 million in funding for state, tribal, and local projects completed in conjunction with community-based organizations. In total the agency anticipates funding approximately 70 projects of up to $1 million each for a 3-year project.

Interested applicants must submit proposal packages on or before April 10, 2023, for projects to begin on October 1, 2023.

EPA’s efforts to fund local groups are part of its broader strategic goal of enhancing equitable apportionment of resources and the benefits of environmental policies. EPA’s Equity Action Plan, discussed here, prioritizes building capacity in environmentally underserved communities to lead projects. Projects like these would lead to increased community engagement, which in turn could lead to more equitable outcomes in the environmental space. The strategy of building up local capacity to engage on environmental issues, mirrors private-sector efforts like Bloomberg Philanthropies $85 million “Beyond Petrochemicals” campaign, discussed here.

Federal Cumulative Impact Guidance

EPA’s Office of General Counsel released its Cumulative Impacts Addendum this week. This addendum builds on EPA’s Legal Tools to Advance Environmental Justice, which was released in May 2022. Taken together, these encyclopedia-like documents were created with the purpose of “identifying and making appropriate use of every authority and tool available to EPA under the law to incorporate environmental and climate justice considerations in our work,” in the words of EPA Administrator Michael Regan. The addendum itself indicates that it “is not intended to prescribe when and how [EPA] should undertake specific actions, nor does it provide methodologies for how to conduct a cumulative impacts assessment.” (Note: EPA’s Office of Research and Development has advanced a definition of “cumulative impacts,” summarized here, and is researching methodologies to deploy the concept.)

Structurally, the addendum breaks EPA’s authorities to address cumulative impacts into six subject-matter focused chapters:

  • Clean Air Act Programs
  • Water Programs
  • Waste Management and Emergency Response Programs (i.e. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; Oil Pollution Act; the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act; and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act)
  • Pesticides and Toxics Programs (i.e. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; and the Toxic Substances Control Act); and
  • Environmental Review Programs (i.e. National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Air Act Section 309 Reviews).  

EPA’s intent with the addendum was to outline legal resources for federal, state, and local regulators to consult situationally outlining potential tools that could be used to address cumulative impacts. These legal tools, used in conjunction with EJ-focused screening tools like EJSCREEN (discussed here) and newly developed and (increasingly available) data (see our discussions here and here), are part of EPA’s high prioritization of EJ issues.

Takeaways for the Regulated Community

We offer two takeaways from these developments:

First, EPA’s commitment to a “whole of government” approach to address EJ issues continues unabated. Over time, the Biden Administration has exhibited a willingness to allocate money to address EJ issues; reorient EPA and DOJ to better address them; develop new tools; and indeed, build capacity to engage local communities in an effort to benefit more Americans regardless of their race, language or socioeconomic status.  

Second, taken collectively, these efforts will necessitate changes in process for regulated entities because governmental and community engagement in the EJ space is altering the policymaking process at a rapid rate. Relevant here, we expect that a secondary effect of EPA and private parties “building capacity” in local communities will be an increase in community involvement — and potentially opposition — to businesses operating in their communities. These groups are likely to deploy all available resources — including those outlined in the addendum — to address their concerns.

Members of the Firm’s Environmental & Energy Groups regularly monitor state and federal EJ efforts. Contact us with questions about how these efforts or programs affect you.


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