Environmental Justice at EPA

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For the first time, President Biden has prioritized environmental justice across the whole-of-government, with specific agency mandates and deadlines included in his Week One Executive Orders. However, many of President Biden’s environmental justice goals hinge on EPA’s enforcement, regulatory, and monitoring capacities. These goals are especially ambitious in light of the significant institutional damage wrought by the Trump administration. The agency must therefore identify and repair that damage while simultaneously expanding its existing programs to address longstanding inequities in environmental enforcement and monitoring.

On this page we track EPA’s environmental justice actions under President Biden, including funding decisions related to Justice40, enforcement of environmental violations, and improvements in public participation and access to agency decision-making. For an overview and timeline of environmental justice efforts at EPA under President Trump and preceding administrations, see our Mission Tracker piece EPA Undermines its Own Environmental Justice Programs.

Public Participation

For tips on writing public comments and scheduling EO 12866 meetings with OIRA, visit our Public Participation Resources Page.

  • October 1: EPA releases a draft strategic plan for fiscal years 2022-2026 that for the first time focuses on environmental justice and climate resilience goals. EPA is currently seeking comment on the draft plan until November 12. The public can submit comments at www.regulations.gov using Docket Number EPA-HQ-OA-2021-0403.
  • September 14: In Fall 2021, EPA increases its national environmental justice community engagement calls from quarterly to biweekly. See a calendar of upcoming calls, register, and view meeting materials for past calls here.
  • June 24: OIRA receives EPA’s proposed rule on light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards. The proposed rule revises the Trump-era Safe Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vchiels Rule for Model Years 2021-2026. For background information on the Clean Car rules, see EELP’s resource page here. To schedule a 30-minute meeting with OIRA, use RIN 2060-AV13.
  • May 26: EPA selects ten communities to participate in virtual roundtable discussions on EPA’s planned revisions to the Trump Administration’s updated Lead and Copper Rule (to learn more about that rule, read EELP’s analysis here). The selected communities include Newark, N.J.; Flint and Detroit, MI; and Memphis, TN. EPA will also host a related Tribal roundtable discussion in July. The public can submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0255 until June 30, 2021.
  • May 14: EPA opened a non-rulemaking docket for public input on reducing emissions of methane and other air pollutants from new and existing sources in the oil and natural gas sector. The comment period closes July 30. EPA stated that the goal of this public comment period and its other public engagement efforts “is to gather perspectives from a broad group of stakeholders for the oil and natural gas sector, including individuals and communities that experience disproportionate adverse health and environmental impacts as a result of oil and natural gas operations.” Submit a comment or review others’ comments here.

Personnel

  • September 23: The Senate confirms Jane Nishida as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s International and Tribal Affairs Office.
  • August 19: EPA forms a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) implementation team to implement President Biden’s June 25 executive order on DEIA in the federal workforce. A government-wide strategy on diversity is expected to be released in November and EPA will submit a diversity strategy in March 2022.
  • August 2: EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces 47 new members, primarily academic researchers, to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. For the first time, the Board will have subcommittees on environmental justice and climate science. 
  • June 23: Biden nominates David Uhlmann to lead EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA). Uhlmann is an expert on criminal enforcement of environmental laws, and prosecuted the first environmental justice criminal trial.
  • June 22: Biden nominates Carlton Waterhouse to serve as assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, which oversees the Superfund program. Waterhouse is a leading expert on environmental law and environmental and racial justice, and previously served in EPA’s Office of General Counsel.
  • June 17: Regan appoints “historically diverse” members to EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Panel (CASAC).
  • May 28: In its FY 2022 budget, EPA proposes to create a new national EJ program office, headed by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator. 
  • Feb. 1: Civil rights attorney Marianne Engelman-Lado joins EPA as deputy general counsel for environmental initiatives. Prior to joining EPA, Engelman-Lado often critiqued EPA’s anemic record on civil rights enforcement.

Funding Opportunities

This is not a comprehensive list. For more information on EPA funding opportunities, visit EPA’s Grant Opportunities page or Grants.gov.

  • October 14: EPA’s Office of Water releases an action plan for addressing water quality, infrastructure development, and other water issues on tribal lands. The plan calls for promoting coordination with tribal nations, strengthening water governance, increasing infrastructure funding, and protecting tribal reserved rights. The plan also calls for the distribution of $22.5 million Drinking Water Infrastructure Grant Tribal Set-Aside funding to EPA regional offices in FY2021. To learn more about EPA’s National Tribal Water Program, visit their site here
  • September 16: EPA seeks proposals for transdisciplinary community-based research addressing the intersections between climate change and public health in underserved communities. See the funding announcement and formal RFA here. Applications are due November 16, 2021.
  • September 14: EPA and the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) launches the $2 million EJ4Climate grant program to fund community resilience to climate change. Non-profits, NGOs, environmental and community-based groups, and tribal nations may apply. Applications are due Nov. 14 and projects will begin implementation in Feb. 2022.
  • July 7: EPA announces an additional $50 million in American Rescue Plan funding to improve air quality monitoring. The funds include $20 million in competitive grants for community groups, state, Tribal and local air agencies; and $22.5 million to state, Tribal, or local air agencies to monitor the six criteria pollutants regulated by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), including soot (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone. No matching funds will be required. The request for applications will be available in fall 2021, and grants awarded in 2022. See open announcements and an Application Toolkit on EPA’s air grants and funding page.
  • June 25: EPA announces a plan to disburse the $50 million made available under the COVID-19 stimulus package (American Rescue Plan) for low-income communities of color. That plan includes:
      • $16.7 million for EJ grants; 
      • $7 million for electric school buses; 
      • $5.1 million to strengthen monitoring in near low-income communities and drinking water sources; and
      • $5 million to clean up brownfield sites for redevelopment.
  • June 11: EPA announces $6 million in Clean Water Act grants to support Tribes in managing nonpoint source pollution.
  • April 9: Biden requests $936 million for new Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative at EPA to “advance racial equity, and secure environmental justice in communities . . . including rural and tribal communities.” This includes more than $100 million to develop a new community air quality monitoring and notification system. Biden also requests $882 million for the Superfund Remedial program.

Pollution Exposure and Public Data

  • September 27: EPA launches the “Enhancing Lead-Safe Work Practices through Education and Outreach” initiative to raise awareness about childhood lead exposure and protect disproportionately-impacted, underserved, and low-income communities. As part of the program, EPA will provide free contractor trainings in certain communities and free lead awareness train-the-trainer sessions. To learn more about the initiative, register for trainings, and attend webinars, visit the initiative site here.
  • September 9: EPA’s Office of Inspector General releases a report finding that “EPA did not consistently communicate human health risks at select sites being addressed by the Office of Land and Emergency Management” and did not adhere to risk communication guidance.
  • September 2: EPA releases report detailing how the impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt in “socially vulnerable” communities.
  • June 30: EPA announces it will revisit the Trump administration’s risk evaluations for 10 chemicals regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). For six of these ten chemicals, EPA will focus on identifying and protecting fenceline communities. Those chemicals are methylene chloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), carbon tetrachloride, perchloroethylene, NMP, and 1-bromopropane. EPA will also reconsider assumptions that workers are always provided with and properly wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in its risk evaluations.
  • June 23: EPA announces it will publicly update and release national air toxics data and risk estimates on an annual basis. Previously, EPA provided a national air toxics assessment every 3-4 years. The data will also be accessible via EJSCREEN.
  • April 29: EPA announces it will expand the scope of reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) to include additional chemicals and facilities, including facilities that emit the harmful carcinogen ethylene oxide. EPA will also add demographic data from EJSCREEN, allowing users to see the income profile and racial makeup surrounding TRI facilities, and launch a Spanish version of the TRI website.

Rulemaking

For more updates on the Biden-Harris administration’s regulatory agenda, see our Biden Environmental Action Tracker.

  • August 18: EPA announces that it will ban use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on all food in order to better protect human health, particularly that of children, farmworkers, and other vulnerable groups. However, chlorpyrifos can still be used on nonfood crops, continuing to expose farmworkers in a variety of settings like plant nurseries and greenhouses.
  • July 29: EPA finalizes several changes to regulations for coal ash including elimination of certain closure requirements and adding provisions that enhance the public’s access to information. However, the EPA’s decision to uphold the coal ash regulations was criticized for not carrying out environmental justice. Many coal ash polluting sites and coal ash landfills are located in low-income communities and communities of color.
  • June 16: EPA publishes a final rule delaying the effective date of the Trump-era Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR), and delaying the LCRR’s compliance date from January 16, 2024 to October 16, 2024. According to Biden’s Unified Agenda, EPA plans to issue a new Lead and Copper Rule by June 2022. For more on the Trump-era rule, see EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule: Examining Challenges and Prospects.
  • June 10: EPA issues a new rule undoing Trump-era changes to EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board. The new protocols seek to improve public participation opportunities during permit review. For more on Trump-era changes to the Board, see our analysis here.

Title VI and ECRCO

For an overview of EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) and enforcement of Title VI in the Obama and Trump administrations, see EELP’s analysis EPA Undermines its Own Environmental Justice Programs.

  • October 15: ECRCO announces it will investigate allegations that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality violated civil rights in failing to address air quality violations affecting majority Black residents surrounding the Oxbow Calcining plant in Port Arthur, Texas.
  • September 20: EPA responds to the OIG’s 2020 report on the need for EPA’s Civil Rights Office (ECRCO) to improve enforcement of Title VI among federal funding recipients. In its report, EPA makes new commitments, including issuing new guidance including how to assess cumulative impacts of a proposed project, and launching proactive post-award compliance reviews.
  • May 20: In the 2021 National Environmental Justice Conference & Training Program, Lilian Dorka, director of ECRCO, committed to respond to Title VI complaints in a “timely manner” and conduct affirmative compliance reviews in “environmentally overburdened and disadvantaged communities.” Dorka also committed to releasing “very clear policy guidance” on nondiscrimination program requirements for agencies that receive EPA funding by the end of 2021, and to strengthen existing Title VI standards of review in 2022. For an overview of Title VI enforcement at EPA, see our Mission Tracker piece EPA Undermines its Own EJ Programs.
  • April 9: Biden requests additional funding to “overhaul and strengthen” EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO).
  • March 30: The External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) issues a preliminary finding that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources failed to comply with Title VI regulations when it issued an air pollution control permit to a fuel transport business near predominantly Black neighborhoods. To-date, the Office has only made one formal finding of discrimination in its history.

Other Enforcement

  • September 10: EPA and the California Environmental Protection Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase enforcement in communities that are “overburdened by pollution.”
  • August 31: EPA releases a memo updating two model Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) forms. Among other changes, a workgroup developed new provisions for the revised Statement of Work to advance the protection of environmental justice communities by enhancing community engagement. The forms and more information can be found here.
  • June 21: Acting Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), Lawrence Starfield, issues a memo announcing OECA will work more closely with DOJ to detect and redress “environmental crimes in overburdened communities.” For more information, see our Tracker page on Environmental Justice at DOJ.
  • April 30: OECA Acting Administrator Starfield issues a memo laying out four strategies to improve environmental enforcement in EJ communities: increasing facility inspections, crafting settlement agreements that remediate pollution and address past harms, improving engagement with affected communities, and where necessary, stepping in to ensure enforcement where state and local regulators fall short. These initiatives will be coordinated by a new Enforcement Steering Committing. 
  • April 7: Administrator Regan directs all EPA offices to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution.”