By Ilana R. Morady and Craig B. Simonsen

According to the executive summary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new “Plan EJ 2014,” in January 2010, Administrator Lisa Jackson made “expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for environmental justice” an Agency priority. The priority was then incorporated into the EPA’s Strategic Plan for 2011-2015. To implement this priority and strategic plan, EPA has published its “Plan EJ 2014” (Plan), and is promoting it as the Agency’s roadmap for integrating environmental justice into its programs, policies, and activities. EPA has stated that “this priority recognizes that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and EPA’s civil rights program is [sic] a critical component in advancing environmental justice.”

EPA’s strategy for advancing environmental justice seeks to:

  • Protect the environment and health in overburdened communities.
  • Empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment.
  • Establish partnerships with local, state, tribal, and federal governments and organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities.

To implement the Agency’s plan for environmental justice, the Plan has three major sections: Cross-Agency Focus Areas, Tools Development Areas, and Program Initiatives.

Five Cross-Agency Focus Areas

The EPA has set out five cross-agency focus areas to more effectively protect human health and the environment for overburdened populations.

Focus area one is to develop and implement guidance on incorporating environmental justice into the Agency’s rulemaking process. Focus area two is to consider environmental justice in permitting. That is, to enable overburdened communities to “have full and meaningful access to the permitting process and to develop permits that address environmental justice issues to the greatest extent practicable under existing environmental laws.” Plan, Executive Summary, p. 2. Focus area three is to advance environmental justice through compliance and enforcement. The goal is to integrate consideration of environmental justice concerns into the planning and implementation of the enforcement and compliance program strategies, case targeting strategies, and the development of remedies in enforcement actions to benefit overburdened communities. Focus area four is to support community-based action programs. The Agency’s goal would be to strengthen community-based programs and to engage overburdened communities and build partnerships that promote healthy, sustainable, and green communities. Finally, focus area five is to facilitate the involvement of all federal agencies in implementing Executive Order 12898 (“Federal Actions To Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations“) by minimizing and mitigating disproportionate, negative impacts while fostering environmental, public health, and economic benefits for overburdened communities.

Tools Development Areas

The Agency’s Tools Development Areas will “support and conduct research that employs participatory principles and integrates social and physical sciences aimed at understanding and illuminating solutions to environmental and health inequalities among overburdened populations and communities in the United States.” All Agency decisions will make use of the information, data, and analytic tools available, including science, law, and other resources.

Program Initiatives

The EPA’s Program Initiatives will focus on specific EPA programs, including: Community Engagement Initiative (Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response), Urban Waters (Office of Water), National Enforcement Initiatives (Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance), Air Toxics Rules (Office of Air and Radiation), and the U.S. Mexico Border Program (Office of International and Tribal Affairs). The EPA anticipates that it will designate at least one initiative per appropriate program for inclusion in the Plan, envisioning that these EPA initiatives can be then tailored to better integrate environmental justice and produce greater benefits for overburdened communities.

As part of this initiative, EPA is pursuing vigorous, robust, and effective implementation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination statutes. The Agency has stated that “EPA is committed to protecting people from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive EPA’s financial assistance.”