EPA's Environmental Justice Efforts Moving Beyond Regulatory Structures and Into Programming

As we move toward two full years of the Biden Administration, we can see the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) environmental justice (EJ) efforts move from the creation of new offices and guidance materials toward seeing EJ-focused changes occurring in EPA’s efforts to regulate the physical environment. Below, we highlight three recent EJ-focused changes.

EPA’s Creation of its Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights 

On September 24, EPA announced the creation of a new office merging functions previously managed by three existing programs at the agency: the Office of Environmental Justice, External Civil Rights Compliance Office, and Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center. The office will eventually be headed by a Senate-confirmed assistant administrator and be staffed by approximately 200 full-time employees. At the time the office was announced, EPA Administrator Michael Regan noted the move will embed “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.” 

The EJ office will supervise various activities we have previously covered, including weighing in on EJ issues in the compliance and permitting space; working to develop the capacity of environmentally overburdened communities to meaningfully participate in environmental decision making; and supervising EJ-focused spending included in the Inflation Reduction Act. 

EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management Finalizes its EJ Action Plan

On September 30, EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) finalized its EJ Action Plan. OLEM’s Action Plan builds out EPA’s EJ efforts related to land resources governed by statutes, including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Recovery and Cleanup Act (CERCLA). OLEM’s EJ Action Plan builds out principles in EPA’s overall Equity Action Plan, which we discussed here

Key efforts outlined in the OLEM EJ Action Plan include focusing OLEM’s efforts on environmentally overburdened communities, building out EPA’s RCRA site data resources to allow comprehensive mapping of RCRA sites with the potential for EJ impacts, working to prioritize EJ concerns as part of site assessment, and targeting funding in this space to EJ-impacted communities. 

EPA Announces Updates to Its EJSCREEN Mapping Tool 

On October 11, EPA announced revisions to its EJSCREEN mapping tool. EJSCREEN is intended to provide environmental and socioeconomic data to help identify environmentally overburdened communities. The mapping tool has been revised with some regularity since its introduction. The current EJSCREEN 2.1 tool incorporates revisions, including: 

  • Limited new environmental, demographic, and index data for the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • EPA added a set of “supplemental indexes” to highlight vulnerable populations that may be disproportionately impacted by pollution. The supplemental indexes incorporate a new five-factor demographic index, factoring in the percentage of a community that is low-income, limited English-speaking, has less than high school education, unemployed, and low life expectancy. These supplemental indexes are intended to supplement current indexes, which rely on income and racial demographic information and may be relevant for awarding of grants where consideration of race can be challenged.  
  • EJSCREEN 2.1 also allows users to look across all 12 indexes at once, providing a cumulative outlook on vulnerable populations facing higher pollution burdens. 

The EJSCREEN tool is a key tool which can be used to identify communities EPA deems to be environmentally overburdened. We will focus on how EPA’s use of this tool has evolved in future posts. 

Members of the Firm’s Environmental Group regularly monitor Biden Administration EJ efforts. Keep an eye here for updates on developments. 


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