Throughout the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration, Environmental Justice (EJ) has been a focus of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As I wrote about in November 2021, since January 2021 EPA has released numerous policies and guidance documents on EJ-related issues and has taken unprecedented actions in connection with permitting reviews and enforcement actions. EPA Administrator Michael Regan has repeatedly emphasized that EJ will be a top EPA priority.
Recently, EPA released additional broad policy actions to follow through on its EJ priority. These actions include:
- “Aggressively” using EPA’s authority to conduct unannounced inspections of suspected non-compliant facilities and using all available tools to hold accountable those found to be in non-compliance.
- Establishing a new program to expand air monitoring capacity, including additional air pollution inspectors, airplanes, and other air monitoring vehicles.
- Leveraging EPA resources to invest in community air monitoring in vulnerable areas.
- Pressing state and local elected officials to take urgent action to better protect the most overburdened communities.
- Increased monitoring and oversight of polluting facilities in overburdened communities.
- Applying the best available science to agency policymaking to safeguard public health and protect the environment.
EPA’s announcement included a number of specific actions focused on southern states (e.g., Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi) to address long-standing EJ challenges. This included the formation of a Multi-Scale Monitoring Project called the Pollution Accountability Team (PAT), which will utilize high-tech air pollution monitoring, and an increase in inspectors on the ground to enhance inspection and enforcement actions.
While EPA’s recent announcement is primarily focused on EJ challenges in a handful of southern states, it provides useful insight into EPA’s EJ-related investments, investigations, and enforcement nationwide.