Environmental Justice at DOJ
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The Department of Justice serves as the federal government’s lawyer. Under President Biden, DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) will be responsible for defending the administration’s climate and environmental justice initiatives in court, in addition to enforcing existing environmental laws in partnership with EPA. The Civil Rights Division (CRD) will also play a crucial role in enforcing the administration’s environmental justice agenda, including enforcing antidiscrimination laws.
In this section we track ENRD’s and CRD’s stated enforcement priorities and structural changes at each Division. For case-specific enforcement decisions, see Press Releases for ENRD and CRD, or ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Monthly Bulletins.
- April: The ENRD-EPA Victim Assistance Team (VAT) (see “New Initiatives” below for more on VAT) develops new victims’ rights materials to assist prosecutors and investigators in protecting the rights of environmental crime victims, including model charging language, a victim impact statement template, and issues checklist.
- Feb. 4: ENRD’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean Williams withdraws nine Trump-era documents defining enforcement priorities and procedures. The withdrawal includes the Trump administration’s ban on the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs). Restoring the use of SEPs allows ENRD to require polluters to invest directly in communities affected by environmental violations, in addition to paying fines to the Treasury. For more on the Trump-era policy, see DOJ Phases Out Supplemental Environmental Projects in Environmental Enforcement.
- July 27: The Senate votes 58 to 41 to confirm Todd Kim to lead ENRD. Kim originally joined the Biden administration as deputy general counsel in the Department of Energy. Kim previously worked as an appellate attorney at ENRD, and was the District of Columbia’s first solicitor general.
- May 25: The Senate votes 51 to 48 to confirm Kristen Clarke to lead DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, making her the first woman of color to lead the Division. Clarke previously served as president for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She began her career at DOJ where she prosecuted policy brutality, hate crimes, human trafficking cases and enforced voting rights laws.
- April 21: The Senate votes 51 to 49 to confirm civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general, the third-highest position at DOJ. Gupta is the first woman of color to serve in the position, where she will oversee both CRD and ENRD.
- June 24: Acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Jackquelyn Kasulis, announced the creation of an Environmental Justice Team in the Office’s Civil Division to address environmental hazards in overburdened communities.
- June 9: DOJ and EPA announce a new interagency Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Program, which “will help achieve environmental justice by ensuring crime victims in communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harm are able to equally participate in the criminal justice system.” Prosecutors will invoke crime victim statutes to obtain compensation for environmental crime victims.
- Jan. 27: President Biden tasks DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) with creating a “comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy” in his Climate Crisis Executive Order. In the same order, Biden also asks DOJ to consider creating an Office of Environmental Justice within ENRD to coordinate EJ-related activities within the DOJ and States Attorneys’ Offices.
- April 12: President Biden’s FY 2022 budget request includes $44 million for DOJ’s environmental justice efforts. However, only $5 of the $44 million would go to ENRD, while the remaining $39 million would go to the Bureau of Prisons to address facility repair and enhanced sustainability. The budget request also includes an additional $33 million for DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Community Relations Service, and other programs addressing police reform, the prosecution of hate crimes, and enforcing voting rights.