Environmental Justice at EPA

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For the first time, President Biden has prioritized environmental justice (EJ) across the whole-of-government, with specific agency mandates and deadlines included in his Week One Executive Orders. However, many of President Biden’s EJ 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. As part of that expansion, the Biden administration recently created a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR), elevating EJ and civil rights enforcement to the same level as the agency’s media offices. These and other updates are listed below.

On this page we track EPA’s EJ 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 EJ 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. Click here for a schedule of EPA’s upcoming environmental justice calls, register for future calls, and view meeting materials for past calls.

Internal Equity Efforts

  • Nov. 17, 2022: EPA’s office of inspector general launches an audit of the Office of Water to determine whether the office, regions, primary agencies and public water systems are notifying the public “promptly” after lead is detected at higher levels in drinking water. The inspector general will also assess whether EPA properly allocated funds to replace lead service lines in “disadvantaged communities” under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.
  • Sep. 30, 2022: EPA finalizes its “EJ Action Plan: Building Up Environmental Justice in EPA’s Land Protection and Cleanup Programs.” The plan addresses EPA’s Superfund, Brownfields, Emergency Response and other programs administered by the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). The goals are to increase compliance with environmental statutes, take environmental justice into account when developing regulations, implement the Justice40 Initiative, and engage more communities with rulemaking, permitting decisions, and policies.
  • Sep. 24, 2022 EPA launches a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR), which will be led by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator, elevating EJ and civil rights enforcement to the same level as EPA’s media offices for the first time. The office merges the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), the External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO), and the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center. One of the Office’s first tasks will be to allocate $3 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in climate and environmental justice block grants. Marianne Engelman-Lado currently serves as the Office’s Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator.
  • Aug. 2, 2022: EPA announces a new partnership with USDA on the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative. The initiative, with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will provide technical and financial support to improve wastewater infrastructure for “some of America’s most underserved communities.”
  • July 2022: EPA reorganizes its Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW) to add a new division focused on on drinking water capacity and compliance assistance. The division is currently led by deputy director Ron Bergman.
  • Apr. 14, 2022: EPA releases its first ever Equity Action Plan as required by Executive Order 13985. The plan highlights six new priority strategies: develop a comprehensive framework for considering cumulative impacts in EPA actions, build the capacity for underserved communities to provide their experience to EPA, develop EPA’s internal capacity to implement clear and accountable processes to act based on communities’ input, strengthen EPA’s external civil rights compliance program, integrate participatory science into EPA’s work, and make EPA’s procurement and contracting more equitable. A summary of the Equity Action Plan can also be found here.
  • Mar. 29, 2022: EPA proposes its FY 2023 budget and requests $300.8 million for the agency’s environmental justice program, including funding for the creation of a new National Program Manager for the proposed merging of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights Compliance Office, led by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator position. Part of the funding would also go to five grant programs to reduce “the historically disproportionate health impacts of pollution in marginalized and overburdened communities.” These plans are part of a broader effort to weave EJ throughout all EPA initiatives. More information can be found in the budget justification document.
  • Jan. 18, 2022: EPA announces a series of hiring webinars over the course of January and early February geared towards predominantly Black institutions, Tribal colleges and Native American-serving institutions, Latinx-serving institutions, and Asian American and Pacific Islander-serving institutions. The webinars will will provide  information about jobs and benefits at EPA and how to apply. The dates and event links can be accessed here.
  • Oct. 20, 2021: EPA’s Office of Inspector General announces an audit of the EPA’s distribution of loans for state drinking water projects to disadvantaged communities. The audit aims to ensure that states are meeting their loan subsidy goals for disadvantaged communities and identify any barriers to states spending the maximum allowed on loan subsidies for those communities in their drinking water state revolving funds.
  • Aug. 19, 2021: 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.
  • May 28, 2021: In its FY 2022 budget, EPA proposes to create a new national EJ program office, headed by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator. 

Personnel

  •  Nov. 28, 2022: EPA appoints 14 new members to its Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, including three physicians with asthma expertise. Kari Nadeau specializes in the impacts of wildfire smoke on children’s respiratory health; Sumit Khatri directs the Cleveland Clinic’s Asthma Center; and Stephanie Lovinsky-Desier specializes in asthma research in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Nov. 4, 2022: EPA establishes a new regional environmental justice office in Region 2, with one team member based in the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division in Puerto Rico. At the same time, EPA announces additional actions in Puerto Rico, including supporting disaster recovery following Hurricane Fiona, addressing groundwater contamination and air pollution, and providing technical assistance to community-run drinking water systems.
  • May 9, 2022: EPA announces that Casey Sixkiller will become Regional Administrator for Region 10, covering Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and 271 Tribal Nations. Sixkiller is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and helped launch the Nation’s Washington Office in 2001, and recently served as chief operating officer of King County, Washington, and deputy mayor of Seattle.
  • Apr. 1, 2022: EPA announces that agency veteran Denise Keehner will be the director of EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT). OPPT is responsible for assessing chemicals for health risks and oversees compliance with the Toxic Substances Control Act. Keehner previously held multiple positions at OPPT and other offices within EPA, and is currently Assistant Secretary at the Maryland Department of Environment.
  • Mar. 30, 2022: EPA hires Olivia Glenn, an environmental justice expert, as Senior Equity Advisor and Chief of Staff for Region 2. Glenn was previously Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Justice and Equity for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
  • March 14, 2022: Trish Koman, a University of MIchigan public health scientist and former EPA employee, is sworn in as the Environmental Justice Coordinator for the Office of Air and Radiation.
  • Feb. 8, 2022: EPA announces the appointment of Robin Morris Collin as the first Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice at EPA. Collin is the founding chair of Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force and is the Norma Paulus Professor of Law at Willamette University in Oregon. 
  • Dec. 9, 2021: EPA announces three new Regional Administrators, including Dr. Earthea Nance in Region 6. Dr. Nance is an environmental engineer with extensive experience on the impacts of environmental hazards on vulnerable communities in Texas and Louisiana. Meg McCollister will serve in Region 7, and Martha Guzman will serve in Region 9. Guzman previously served as commissioner for the California Public Utilities Commission, and has worked for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the United Farm Workers.
  • Nov. 18, 2021: EPA announces Lisa Garcia will lead EPA Region 2 (including NY, NJ, the USVI and Puerto Rico), Daniel Blackman will lead EPA’s Southeast Office in Region 4, and KC Becker will lead Region 8. Garcia previously served as Associate Assistant Administrator for Environmental Justice at EPA under President Obama.
  • Nov. 3, 2021: The Senate votes to confirm Jeffrey Prieto as EPA’s general counsel. A key part of Prieto’s new role will be to determine how the agency will use its legal tools to protect environmental justice communities. Prior to joining the EPA, Prieto was general counsel of the Los Angeles Community College District and had previously worked at USDA and DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
  • Oct. 27, 2021: EPA announces the appointment of ten new National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) members with backgrounds in academia, grassroots organizations, nonprofits, state, local and tribal governments, and faith groups. For more information on the NEJAC, visit their website here.
  • Sep. 23, 2021: The Senate confirms Jane Nishida as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s International and Tribal Affairs Office.
  • Aug. 2, 2021: 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, 2021: 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, 2021: 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, 2021: Regan appoints “historically diverse” members to EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Panel (CASAC).
  • Feb. 1, 2021: 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.

  • Apr. 20, 2022 EPA officials announce at a NEJAC meeting that they will consider race and ethnicity to identify the most overburdened or underserved communities and to evaluate the impacts of grant award decisions, but will not consider race or ethnicity when making funding award decisions, including when defining “disadvantaged communities” for purposes of Justice40.
  • Apr. 11, 2022: The Biden Administration releases a “playbook” for rural communities on programs funded under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and how to apply, including $1 billion from EPA for Superfund site cleanup and $1.5 billion for Brownfield assessment and cleanup. The playbook emphasizes that potential applicants for these funds should begin to inventory sites and launch community-led stakeholder engagement sessions to assess eligibility and the training needs of the local workforce. 
  • March 8, 2022: Lawmakers release the FY 2022 omnibus spending bill, under which EPA would receive $9.5 billion. The funding would include $100 million specifically designated for environmental justice communities, an $83 million increase over current funding.
  • March 8, 2022: EPA releases a memo to guide collaboration around implementation of $43 billion in water infrastructure funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and through the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. The memo outlines in detail how EPA will administer State and Tribal Assistance Grants and highlights key priorities such as increased investment in disadvantaged communities, lead service line replacement, and full enforcement of Title VI. EPA will host national webinars on March 10 and March 16, 2022 and registration can be found here. More information can also be found here
  • Jan. 19, 2022: Administrator Regan unveils $688 million in Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans to improve water infrastructure in Baltimore, Milwaukee and the San Francisco Bay Area. The money will go towards stormwater management and reducing flood risk in underserved communities, reducing nutrient runoff, replacing water mains, and generating jobs.
  • Jan. 5, 2022: EPA Administrator Michael Regan says that EPA is reviewing a range of metrics to measure the benefits of the six EPA Justice40 pilot projects at a NEJAC meeting. Potential metrics include percent reduction of children’s asthma-related hospital visits, amount of pollutants reduced, number of job trainings provided, and more. The measurement of benefits requirement comes from White House CEQ guidance from July 2021. Regan also says he is awaiting NEJAC’s input on EPA’s strategic plan, which has faced criticism because the deadlines for each planned action are not until 2026. The final plan is expected to be released in February. 
  • Dec. 13, 2021: EPA launches a $20 million grant competition through the American Rescue Plan to improve community air pollution monitoring. Community-based nonprofit organizations, Tribes, states, and local governments are eligible to apply. Projects must address criteria pollutants, their precursors, or hazardous air pollutants. Applicants do not need to provide matching funds. Applications are due by Feb. 25, 2022. EPA will host a webinar about the Request for Applications (RFA) on Jan. 11, 2022 from 1:00-2:00PM Eastern.
  • Dec. 10, 2021: The EPA Office of Inspector General says that it will increase oversight and release an oversight plan specific to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in order to track the $60 billion that the agency will receive under the Act, most of which will go to state and tribal grants. The Office is aiming to add more than 120 new employees with funding that it will receive under the Act in order to expand oversight capacity.
  • Dec. 2, 2021: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $60 billion for EPA, $50 billion of which is directed to strengthen the country’s water and wastewater systems. EPA says it will allocate $7.4 billion to states, tribes, and territories in 2022, with almost half available as grants or principal forgiveness loans. Administrator Regan sends a letter urging governors to target these funds toward disadvantaged communities, and prioritize lead-line replacement and addressing PFAS in communities with water contamination. Click here to read Adm. Regan’s letter, including the amount of money going towards each state’s revolving fund.
  • Oct. 14, 2021: 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
  • Sep. 27, 2021: Chief of the Nonpoint Source Management Branch of EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds, Lynda Hall, releases a memo encouraging state and territorial program managers and staff to support environmental justice in the §319 Nonpoint Source Program, including urging states to prioritize funding for programs that benefit disadvantaged communities and build capacity in these communities access program grants. EPA’s national program will also analyze and consider additional actions to provide programmatic support for environmental justice communities. 
  • Sep. 16, 2021: 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 Nov. 16, 2021.
  • Sep. 14, 2021: 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, 2021 and projects will begin implementation in Feb. 2022.
  • July 7, 2021: 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, 2021: 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, 2021: EPA announces $6 million in Clean Water Act grants to support Tribes in managing nonpoint source pollution.
  • April 9, 2021: 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

  • Oct. 27, 2022: EPA releases its first-ever agency-wide strategy to combat lead exposure in high-risk communities. The strategy will leverage funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including $15 billion for lead pollution mitigation efforts. The plan includes lead service line projects, cleanup projects at Superfund sites, and supporting “small and disadvantaged” communities in identifying lead service lines. The plan also includes steps to improve engagement with communities and support research to reduce lead exposure and related health risks.
  • Oct. 3, 2022: EPA releases two new data tools that enable the public to investigate EJ-related concerns in their own communities. EPA updates its Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website to include EJ metrics and analysis tools. These updates allow users to search for facilities and pollution sources affecting areas with EJ concerns and analyze trends in EJ compliance and enforcement. EPA also releases a public Benzene Fenceline Monitoring Dashboard for the first time, which monitors benzene concentrations around petroleum refineries.
  • Sep. 22, 2022: EPA announces it will review the human health and environmental impacts of glyphosate or “Roundup”, a widely-used herbicide. As part of that review, the agency is withdrawing an interim decision issued under the Trump administration in response to litigation before the Ninth Circuit. EPA says it is not changing its determination that “glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” but intends to better explain its evaluation and potentially expand its analysis to other human health factors. Users can continue to apply Roundup while EPA conducts its review.
  • Aug. 25, 2022: EPA releases a report surveying the first ten years of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), which authorizes EPA to provide rebates and grants to replace high-emitting diesel vehicles. EPA finds  that the DERA has significantly reduced smog, soot, air toxics and other emissions, improving air quality and improving health in communities across the country. Between 2008 and 2018, the DERA enabled EPA to replace or retrofit more than 73,000 diesel vehicles, preventing the use of 520 million gallons of diesel. These fuel savings avoided approximately $8 billion in health costs. In the announcement, EPA also commits to dedicate  at least 40% of DERA funding to “disadvantaged communities” in accordance with the Justice40 Initiative.
  • Aug. 4, 2022: EPA publishes new guidance to help water utilities and communities locate lead pipes that distribute water to homes, schools, and other buildings, especially in “disadvantaged communities”. EPA will use the guidance to facilitate investment of $15 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to replace lead service lines. 
  • June 23, 2022: EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) adopts recommendations urging EPA to work with states to alter the permitting process to implement “maximum pollution allowances” for a given area to consider cumulative environmental and health impacts. The agency’s working definition states that cumulative impacts are “the total burden from chemical and non-chemical stressors and their interactions that affect the health, well-being and quality of life of an individual, community, or population at a given point in time or over a period of time.” In September, EPA’s Office of General Counsel is scheduled to release a report that outlines EPA’s legal authority to address cumulative impacts. 
  • April 25, 2022: The Science Advisory Board (SAB), a 47-member independent advisory board within EPA, releases a report responding to EPA’s request for consultation developing a cumulative impacts assessment framework. The consultation responds to a draft report released in Jan. 2022 which addressed gaps and barriers to implementing cumulative impact research
  • Mar. 31, 2022: EPA’s Office of Inspector General finds that EPA failed to take action on recommendations from the Office to monitor and collect  income data from its Brownfields program. Without this data, EPA cannot determine whether funds were used in a timely manner and for the purposes agreed upon in closeout agreements.
  • Mar. 30, 2022: EPA’s Office of Inspector General releases a report showing EPA has failed to complete overdue reviews of air toxics emission standards for stationary sources, and needs a strategy to address them. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to assess the health and environmental risks that remain after implementing new standards. If those risks are unacceptable, EPA must revise the standard. As communities of color and low-income communities are more likely to live near these sources, the report notes that the overdue reviews may “disproportionately impact communities with environmental justice concerns.” 
  • Mar. 22, 2022: EPA unveils a new online tool, ECHO Notify, that allows users to easily learn about and be alerted to environmental violations and enforcement in their communities through weekly emails based on their locations and facilities of interest.
  • Mar. 17, 2022: Members of EPA’s Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals criticize EPA’s approach for assessing chemical risks to fenceline communities and methods for notifying those communities. Members argue that the proposed methodology in the draft Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Screening Level Approach leaves out too many potential exposure pathways, such as groundwater and waste sites, as well as potential data sources. Once finalized, the methodology will be used for future chemical screenings under TSCA.
  • Feb. 22, 2022: EPA’s Office of Inspector General announces that it will begin an audit of EPA’s benzene fenceline monitoring program for petroleum refineries. Benzene is known to cause cancer and other health effects and the monitoring program exists to ensure refineries take action when the fenceline concentrations of benzene exceed a certain average annual threshold. The aim of the audit is to determine to what extent EPA and state and local agencies take corrective action when benzene levels are too high.
  • Feb. 18, 2022: EPA rolls out a series of updates to its environmental justice mapping tool EJSCREEN. New data include communities with gaps in food access, medical services, and broadband internet as well as new health inequity metrics such as asthma and heart disease. EPA will provide training to users and introduce further updates later in the year. The tool can be accessed here.
  • Feb. 2, 2022: President Biden reinvigorates the Cancer Moonshot initiative, with the aim of reducing the death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years. The program promises to newly focus on addressing environmental exposures that cause cancer by cleaning up pollution, ensuring clean water, and more. EPA will be part of the group of agencies tasked with spearheading the initiative (the “Cancer Cabinet”). EPA also releases a radon action plan to reduce radon-related cancer deaths, and acknowledges that low-income residents and residents of color are less likely to have their homes tested for radon than others, making it a health equity challenge.
  • Feb. 1, 2022: EPA’s Office of Research and Development releases an external review white paper outlining research gaps and barriers to the use of “cumulative impact” analysis in agency decision-making. The document outlines key definitions, identifies research gaps such as how to identify pollution and non-pollution factors that contribute to cumulative impacts, and makes recommendations for establishing stakeholder engagement, empowering local action, providing research management support, and more. EPA releases the paper ahead of the agency’s consultations with the Science Advisory Board (SAB) on March 2 and 7, along with a set of questions for the SAB to consider.  
  • Jan. 26, 2022: EPA announces several pollution-monitoring steps to address the disproportionate pollution impacts in ‘Cancer Alley,’ including Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The agency will invest $600,000 in mobile air pollution monitoring equipment that will be deployed in the communities of Mossville, St. John the Baptist Parish and St. James Parish in Louisiana, as well as other locations in the south. EPA also announced some facility-specific pollution-monitoring requirements, such as requiring the Denka facility in St. John the Baptist parish to install fenceline monitors to identify sources of pollution on site.
  • Jan. 18, 2022: EPA signs a five-year memorandum of understanding with the World Health Organization that states that the groups will cooperate to protect environmental health and address environmental degradation, while prioritizing environmental justice.
  • Jan. 5, 2022: EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management releases a new EJ Action Plan titled “Building Up Environmental Justice in EPA’s Land Protection and Cleanup Programs.” The Plan details several ways that the Office plans to incorporate environmental justice considerations into its work such as providing support to underserved communities and a focus on community revitalization in its Superfund Site work, training and promoting of the use of EJSCREEN in the Superfund and Brownfields programs, strengthening community resiliency through natural disaster debris planning, and much more.
  • Jan. 4, 2022: EPA announces the addition of a new chemical, 1-bromopropane, a suspected carcinogen, to the Clean Air Act’s air toxics list for the first time since the list was created in 1990. The agency is expected to release a plan for examining the risks posed to fenceline communities located near factories and other sources in early 2022.
  • Dec. 28, 2021: EPA uses its discretionary authority to extend Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements to 29 facilities releasing ethylene oxide, a chemical that is harmful to the health of the residents of often historically underserved communities adjacent to the facilities. These facilities will now be required to estimate and report the release of the chemical. EPA has never invoked its discretionary authority under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), the Act under which the TRI requirements are housed, but it is doing so now as part of its broader environmental justice efforts.
  • Dec. 2021: Starting in 2019, EPA has almost completely stopped posting substantial risk notices in its online database, ChemView. The database typically includes documents unavailable elsewhere, including health and toxicology studies discovered through litigation or court orders. EPA says it plans to resume posting information in ChemView soon, depending on available staff and resources.
  • Dec. 2021: EPA agrees to increase air quality monitoring around ethylene oxide-emitting facilities, using funding from the American Rescue Plan package. The agency announces a $200 million grant competition on December 13 for community-based monitoring. (More details under “Funding Opportunities” above).
  • Nov. 30, 2021: EPA announces a $100,000 grant for the University of Maryland to build out an environmental justice screening tool, to be overseen by Dr. Sacoby Wilson. The tool will add data about children’s health and include other indicators, including water quality in rural communities.
  • Oct. 22, 2021: EPA agrees to publish complete lists of each state’s implementation plan (SIP) for complying with EPA’s national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) set under the Clean Air Act. These standards govern the six “criteria” pollutants that pose serious threats to human health. The agreement comes after Our Children’s Earth Foundation, a human rights and environmental nonprofit, sued to compel EPA to release the plans after missing deadlines in 2016 and 2019 to do so. Making the plans publicly available will improve public accountability for both EPA and state environmental agencies. For more information on the NAAQS rulemakings, see our page on National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM and Ozone. For information on how upwind states affect downwind states’ ability to meet the NAAQS, see our page on Air Transport – Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and Section 126 Petitions.
  • Oct. 18, 2021: EPA releases a PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances)  Strategic Roadmap for 2021-2024 detailing research, regulatory, and remedial steps that it plans to take across the agency to alleviate exposure to PFAS pollution. The report focuses on prioritizing the “protection of disadvantaged communities” who live near known and potential sources of PFAS contamination. Other focus areas include holding polluters accountable, preventing PFAS from entering the environment, considering the lifecycle of PFAS, and ensuring science-based decision-making. More information on EPA’s PFAS work can be found here.
  • Oct. 5, 2021: EPA revises its 1995 Policy on Children’s Health for the first time. Along with clarifying the definition of childhood, the revision underscores that “children who live in highly exposed or underserved communities may have reduced biological resilience and ability to recover from exposure to environmental hazards” and therefore EPA has a greater responsibility to provide safeguards to protect children’s health. 
  • Sep. 30, 2021: EPA withdraws an October 2020 Trump administration policy allowing states to be exempted from air emissions regulations during facility start-up, shutdown, or malfunction, reverting back to a 2015 policy that requires states to remove these exemptions from their plans. This change is particularly significant for fenceline communities who are exposed to toxic emissions during the startup and shutdown of facilities.
  • Sep. 28, 2021: EPA chemicals chief Michal Freedhoff says that EPA is conducting a new round of environmental justice screenings of the chemicals that were evaluated under the Toxic Substances Control Act by the Trump administration. Depending on whether the results of these screenings show risks to fenceline communities, EPA will supplement the previous evaluations and move to rule-making as necessary. These comments expand on the June announcement of the environmental screening approach. 
  • Sep. 27, 2021: 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.
  • Sep. 15, 2021: EPA says that it plans to release the “EPA Guidelines for Cumulative Risk Assessment Planning and Problem Formation” document by the end of 2021, following a peer review that occurred in July. The document analyzes cumulative risks for overlapping environmental hazards and has been stalled for years, beginning as a follow-up to EPA’s 2003 Framework for Cumulative Risk Assessment.
  • Sep. 9, 2021: 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.
  • Sep. 2, 2021: EPA releases report detailing how the impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt in “socially vulnerable” communities. Among other results, the report finds that Black and African American individuals are 40% more likely than other groups to live in areas with the highest projected increases in mortality rates due to climate change, American Indian and Alaskan Native communities are significantly more likely to live in areas impacted by sea level rise, and Hispanic and Latino individuals are 43% more likely to live in communities that will lose work hours because of high temperatures. The full report can be accessed here.
  • June 30, 2021: 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, 2021: 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, 2021: 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.

  • Nov. 28, 2022: EPA issues a proposed rule to clarify that state and federal water quality standards (WQS) must protect aquatic and aquatic-dependent resources reserved to tribes. EPA will hold two public hearings to receive oral comments on the proposed rule on Jan. 24 and 31, 2023. Click here for more information and to register for the hearings. EPA will also accept written comments after the rule is published in the Federal Register (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0791).
  • Nov. 2, 2022: EPA issues its final list of drinking water contaminants to inform EPA’s regulatory actions under the Safe Drinking Water Act for the next five years. The list (the Fifth Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List or CCL 5) includes more per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), along with more than five dozen other chemicals and microbes. This list builds upon EPA’s strategy to combat PFAS and other “forever chemicals” in drinking water, which strives to ensure that disadvantaged communities have equitable access to remediation efforts and safe drinking water.
  • Oct. 21, 2022: EPA asks advisors on the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to provide feedback on the agency’s environmental justice analysis informing future revisions to the lead and copper drinking water rule. EPA asks the SAB to comment on the use of newer EJ screening tools, and how to weigh different variables in three draft case studies. For more background on the lead and copper rule, see EELP’s analysis here. EPA is also conducting Tribal consultations on the rule on Oct. 27 and Nov. 9; to learn more about those opportunities, click here.
  • Oct. 12, 2022: EPA proposes a rule that would revise the Federal Air Rules for Reservations (FARR) under the Clean Air Act. If finalized, the rule would update the program for the first time since 2005, reduce high levels of particulate matter emissions, issue three new Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs), and improve air quality in Indian reservations located in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, including the Snoqualmie Indian Reservation, the Cowlitz Indian Reservation, and the Samish Indian Nation. EPA is accepting written comments online through this link until Jan. 10, 2023, but prefers submissions before Nov. 14, 2022.
  • Sep. 27, 2022: EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) recommends EPA systematically quantify the environmental justice benefits of its air pollution rules. The SAB includes the recommendations in comments on EPA’s proposed rule regulating heavy-duty trucks and engines, which includes a novel distributional impact analysis of the health impacts the rule would have in EJ areas.
  • Sep. 6, 2022: EPA proposes a rule that would classify perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), which would allow EPA and other agencies to respond more quickly to a PFOA or PFOS release, require potentially responsible parties to address the contamination in some circumstances, and shift cleanup costs to potentially responsible parties. EPA notes it cannot determine whether the rule will disproportionately affect communities with EJ concerns, but notes minority and low-income communities are more likely to live by large airports and Department of Defense sites with high PFAS concentrations. To review the docket and submit a written comment, click here. EPA prefers submissions before Oct. 6, but will accept comments through Nov. 7, 2022.
  • Aug. 26, 2022: EPA issues a proposed rule that would list two PFAS (perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid or PFOS) as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund law (CERCLA). If finalized, the rule would require parties to report releases of those chemicals, and give EPA the authority to order cleanups and recover costs for sites with dangerous levels of PFOA and PFOS.
  • Aug. 19, 2022: EPA issues the proposed Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention (SCCAP) Rule, which amends the Risk Management Program rule under the Clean Air Act to add requirements for facilities that use extremely hazardous substances that will protect communities located near facilities from chemical accidents. EPA will accept comments for 60 days after the rule is published in the federal register. Virtual public hearings will be held on Sep. 26, 27, and 28.
  • Apr. 1, 2022: EPA revives a proposal to remove Clean Air Act liability protections for industries. It would remove “emergency affirmative defense” provisions that allow pollution sources to avoid liability for their emissions when the violations of standards are due to “reasonably unforeseeable events.” The proposed rule is open for public comment until May 16, 2022 and comments can be submitted to regulations.gov using Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2016-0186.  
  • Mar. 3, 2022: EPA proposes a rule that would set new, more stringent pollution standards for heavy-duty engines and vehicles and seeks stakeholder input. EPA seeks public participation from environmental justice communities, particularly on how heavy-duty vehicles impact communities, the projected air quality improvements, and ways that the proposal could be improved for “people of color, low-income communities, and those who live near highways or in heavily trafficked areas with frequent truck congestion and idling.” Public comment can be submitted on regulations.gov using docket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2019-0055.
  • Jan. 11, 2022: EPA announces actions to address coal ash pollution and protect nearby communities, including proposed decisions on the closure of certain surface impoundments, putting facilities on notice to comply with existing coal ash rules, and future regulatory activities including finalizing a permitting program for the disposal of coal ash and creating rules for legacy coal ash cleanup. See EPA’s website for a list of site-specific determinations and instructions on how to comment. To learn more about coal ash regulations, see EELP’s Tracker Page.
  • Dec. 22, 2021: EPA proposes a draft rule to reduce the emissions of hazardous air pollutants by primary copper smelting facilities. The hazardous risk associated with the releases of two Arizona facilities impacted by this regulation was found by the EPA to “disproportionately affect communities with environmental justice concerns, including low-income residents, Native Americans, and Hispanics living near these facilities.” EPA says that the proposed rule would reduce the risks to an acceptable level. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 45 days to submit comments on the https://www.regulations.gov/ site using Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2020-0430. A public hearing will be held if requested.
  • Dec. 21, 2021: Environmental groups, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Sierra Club, and Ironbound Community Corp. sue EPA for failing to update pollution limits for large municipal incinerators under the Clean Air Act in the last 13 years. Most incinerators are located in marginalized and low-income communities, exposing frontline residents to harmful air pollutants.
  • Dec. 20, 2021: EPA finalizes a rule titled the “Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule” that establishes nationwide monitoring for 29 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and lithium in drinking water. Among other benefits, the expanded monitoring will allow for analyses of disproportionate health and other impacts of the substances on environmental justice communities. More information on the rule can be found here. Additionally, public webinars on the rule will be held on March 16 and 17, 2022, more information and registration can be found here.
  • Dec. 16, 2021: The White House unveils the Lead Pipe and Action Plan, which, among other actions, calls for the Trump-era EPA Lead and Copper Rule to take effect. The implementation of the Rule has been delayed multiple times under this administration to receive additional public comment and has been criticized for failing to accelerate the removal of lead pipes, which contaminate drinking water and are particularly prevalent in low-income communities. The Action Plan also calls for a more stringent regulation to be created by 2024 and the EPA has announced plans to develop a new rule to address concerns with the current one. Read EELP’s analysis of the Lead and Copper Rule here.
  • Dec. 9, 2021: EPA plans to issue a proposed technology review focusing on limiting “fugitive emissions” from commercial sterilizers (which use ethylene oxide or EtO) in 2022, but has not said when it will conduct a revised residual risk review for EtO. Lawmakers, environmental groups, and EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) have urged EPA to conduct a revised residual risk assessment of EtO using the 2016 updated risk value showing the chemical to be much more cancer-causing than previously assumed.
  • Nov. 24, 2021: EPA releases a new rule requiring natural gas processing facilities to publicly report emissions of hazardous air pollutants to EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, in an effort to alert the public to the pollutants that companies are releasing in their communities. This action was long awaited. Groups petitioned the EPA to create a rule in 2012 which was  denied in 2015 and a formal proposal was made in 2017 but not made final until now.
  • Nov. 18, 2021: EPA finalizes a risk and technology review (RTR) of its hazardous air pollutant standards (NESHAPs) for the refractory products manufacturing source category, finding that existing standards sufficiently protect human health despite environmental justice concerns expressed by states and environmentalists. The final RTR makes small changes to some provisions, including work practice standards, and eliminates exceptions for emissions during startup, shutdown, and malfunctions (SSM) but does not include community monitoring in fenceline communities, does not account for cumulative risks of exposure to multiple pollutants, and does not remove exceptions for disasters as requested by community groups.
  • Oct. 26, 2021: EPA launches two new rulemakings to address PFAS under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in response to a petition by the governor of New Mexico. The rulemaking process would propose listing four PFAS as “hazardous constituents” and clarify the use of RCRA’s Corrective Action Program to possibly require PFAS investigations and cleanup in the future. The rulemakings are part of the administration’s multi-agency plan to address PFAS pollution, announced Oct. 21, 2021.
  • Sep. 5, 2021: EPA announces that it is expanding its review of an air toxics rule governing oil storage tanks to potentially require fenceline air quality monitoring at tank sites, a possible environmental justice precedent. EPA plans to issue a notice initiating public review and comment.
  • Aug. 18, 2021: 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, 2021: EPA decides to retain three Trump-era rules regulating coal combustion residuals, known as coal ash, with some changes, including requiring all unlined surface impoundments to retrofit or close, including clay-lined impoundments. The final rule also includes new provisions improving the public’s access to information. However, many criticized EPA’s decision to retain the Trump rules for not doing enough to protect EJ communities, as many coal ash polluting sites and coal ash landfills are located in low-income communities and communities of color. EPA has promised to address remaining issues in future rulemakings. For more background, visit EELP’s Regulatory Tracker page on the Coal Ash Rule.
  • June 16, 2021: 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, 2021: 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

On Sep. 24, 2022, EPA created a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR), merging the External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) and the Office of Environmental Justice.

Click here for ECRCO’s current Title VI Docket.

For more on ECRCO’s history and enforcement of Title VI in the Obama and Trump administrations, see EELP’s analysis EPA Undermines its Own Environmental Justice Programs.

  • Oct. 20, 2022: ECRCO accepts a Title VI complaint filed by the NAACP on Sep. 27, 2022 against the Mississippi Department of Health (MDH) and Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). NAACP alleges that MDH and DEQ discriminated against the majority Black population in the City of Jackson in the funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities. ECRCO does not accept the NAACP’s complaint against the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration (MSDFA) because MSDFA is not a recipient of EPA financial assistance.
  • Oct. 12, 2022: EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR) sends a “Letter of Concern” to the Louisiana Departments of Health and Environmental Quality (LDH and LDEQ). In the letter, EPA expresses “significant concerns that Black residents and school children . . . have been subjected to discrimination” through LDEQ’s “actions and inactions.” The letter requests that the departments conduct cumulative impact analyses.  In conducting these analyses, EPA recommends  LDH and LDEQ solicit community input, “examine current, baseline cumulative risk burden or cumulative impact due to multiple pollutant exposures (via any media) and non-pollutant stressors, such as, income, race, employment, education, access to health care, and other social determinants of health,” and “provide evidence-based recommendations for maximizing potential positive health impacts.”
  • Oct. 5, 2022: EPA proposes to reject the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) proposed state implementation plan (SIP) to meet EPA’s particulate matter air quality standard in the San Joaquin Valley. EPA bases its decision in part on the fact that CARB did not conduct a Title VI analysis, which would assess disparate burdens on communities of color. In response, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District withdraws the proposed SIP on Oct. 27, 2022. EPA also notes that it will soon release guidance about how states should integrate Title VI analyses into their state plans for attaining the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). That guidance will address the rebuttable presumption that policies that satisfy environmental laws automatically satisfy civil rights laws.
  • Sep. 24, 2022 EPA launches a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR), which will be led by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator, elevating EJ and civil rights enforcement to the same level as EPA’s media offices for the first time. The office merges the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), the External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO), and the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center. One of the Office’s first tasks will be to allocate $3 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in climate and environmental justice block grants. Marianne Engelman-Lado currently serves as the Office’s Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator.
  • Aug. 3, 2022: ECRCO accepts two Title VI complaints filed by Lone Star Legal Aid and Harris County against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, exploring whether state regulators failed to properly permit concrete batch plants in Harris County and blocked public participation from people with limited English proficiency. Click here to read the Title VI complaint filed by Lone Star Legal Aid. ECRCO will investigate both complaints at the same time. In response, TCEQ launches a new requirement that will take effect on Nov. 1, 2022 that will require permit applicants whose projects affect low-income communities or communities of color to create a public involvement plan and fill out a new form.
  • Aug. 2022: EPA releases interim guidance on environmental justice and civil rights in permitting for federal, state, and local environmental permitting programs. The guidance emphasizes that recipients of federal funding must comply with EPA’s civil rights regulations in all of their operations, and provides guidance on how to conduct a disparate impact analysis under Title VI.
  • June 28, 2022: A coalition of 13 environmental and legal aid organizations petitions EPA to conduct a Title VI compliance review of  the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and initiate a State Implementation Plan (SIP) Call to require changes to Texas’s air permitting program to ensure environmental justice communities are protected and able to participate in the permitting process. The petitioners say TCEQ’s refusal to evaluate the environmental justice impacts of its permitting decisions and deficient public participation processes violate the Clean Air Act, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and several executive orders. 
  • June 2, 2022: The Office of Environmental Justice and ECRCO release new draft national program guidance (NPG) for FY 2023-2024. This is the first time OEJ/ECRCO have issued an NPG. EPA is accepting public comments on the guidance through July 14, 2022. (OECA also released draft program guidance for FY 2023-2024. For more see “Other Enforcement” below).
  • March-May 2022: ECRCO hosts three trainings with the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) on Title VI procedural requirements, permitting, and compliance. The training materials emphasize that compliance with environmental laws does not indicate compliance with civil rights laws, and discuss how to identify intentional discrimination (i.e., different treatment) versus disparate impact, among other topics.
  • Apr. 7, 2022: ECRCO launches an investigation into the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s  pollution control program and whether the Louisiana Department of Health is failing to inform St. John the Baptist Parish residents about health threats posed by hazardous emissions. The investigation is in response to a complaint filed in January that alleged the two agencies were violating Title VI.
  • Mar. 18, 2022: ECRCO announces that it will conduct a periodic compliance review of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to ensure that its air program comports with civil rights requirements. The review will involve engagement with community members with the goal that CDPHE “will serve as a national example of civil rights best practices.”
  • Jan. 20, 2022: Environmental groups, Concerned Citizens of St. John and Sierra Club, file a complaint under Title VI stating that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and Louisiana Department of Health discriminated against residents by “subjecting Black residents of St. John the Baptist Parish to disproportionate air pollution and related harms from various facilities.” The complaint asks EPA to investigate the allegations and oversee the state’s permitting of facilities.
  • Jan. 13, 2022: ECRCO accepts a complaint from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) for investigation. SELC filed the complaint on Sep. 27, 2021 on behalf of the Duplin County Branch of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP and the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign, alleging the state’s Deptartment of Environmental Quality violated Title VI by issuing permits to four industrial hog “biogas” operations run by Murphy Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, disproportionately polluting Black and Latinx communities. For more information, listen to EELP’s CleanLaw episode on Environmental Racism in North Carolina Hog Farming with Naeema Muhammad, Alexis Andiman, and Hannah Perls.
  • Jan. 6, 2022: ECRCO releases new guidance titled “External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) Process and Criteria for Prioritizing and Selecting Affirmative Compliance Reviews.” In September 2020, EPA’s Office of Inspector General reported that ECRCO ECRCO did not “proactively” conduct compliance reviews or collect information from recipients to identify noncompliant programs. This guidance requires ECRCO to consider input of impacted communities and stakeholders and data on disproportionate impacts from sources like EJSCREEN when prioritizing which recipients will receive affirmative compliance reviews.
  • Nov. 10, 2021: In an EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council meeting, Lilian Dorka, director of ECRCO, says that EPA is pressing the DOJ to require other agencies to ensure recipients of federal funds comply with Title VI when conducting NEPA reviews, including clarifying that Title VI compliance requires more than compliance under NEPA. Dorka also says EPA will make sure NEPA decisions “are taking into consideration civil rights requirements and civil rights considerations,” including disparate impacts. Dorka states that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division (CRD) and other agencies are currently holding meetings to clarify more specifics on how Title VI should be applied to NEPA reviews.
  • Oct. 21, 2021: EPA announces that, due to environmental justice concerns, it will investigate the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s actions to build a natural gas pipeline in Brooklyn after receiving a complaint from community groups in August. The complaint alleged that DEC failed to adequately review the disproportionate impact the pipeline would have on predominantly Black and Latino communities in violation of Title VI. 
  • Oct. 19, 2021: ECRCO announces a public meeting on Oct. 27 from 4pm to 6pm EST to solicit input on EPA’s external civil rights compliance program, including input for focusing civil rights compliance reviews. To register, learn more, and submit public comments, visit the stakeholder meeting site here.
  • Oct. 15, 2021: 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.
  • Oct. 14, 2021: Melissa Hoffer, EPA’s principal deputy general counsel says during an American Bar Association event that EPA will use “affirmative authority” to enforce obligations to ensure that recipients of funds comply with the Civil Rights Act in their decisions. To-date, EPA has never referred a case to DOJ or initiated proceedings to withhold funding from states due to discriminatory behavior.
  • Sep. 20, 2021: 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, 2021: 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, 2021: Biden requests additional funding to “overhaul and strengthen” EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO).
  • March 30, 2021: 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

  • Oct. 27, 2022: EPA releases its 2022 Lead Enforcement Bulletin, highlighting a series of enforcement actions addressing lead in paint, lead in drinking water, and lead in soil or hazardous waste. These include a settlement in Chicago to recover nearly $2 million for the cleanup of lead-contaminated soil; and criminal sanctions for the illegal storage and disposal of hazardous waste at a landfill in North Carolina.
  • Sep. 13, 2022 EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) announces a probe into the drinking water emergency in Jackson, Miss., where severe rainfall inundated the Pearl River and damaged the city’s primary water treatment facility. The majority-Black city has been under a boil-water advisory for nearly seven weeks. On Sep. 26, 2022, the Department of Justice sent a letter on behalf of EPA threatening to sue the City of Jackson over drinking water anad water quality violations unless the City enters into “immediate negotiations”.
  • Sep. 1, 2022 EPA denies an air permit for the Bluewater offshore export terminal project near Corpus Christi, TX, sponsored by Phillips 66 and Trafigura. The permit would have allowed the project to emit up to 833 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants, including 66 tons per year of benzene, more than any other facility in the US. EPA’s action clarifies that offshore facilities must comply with air toxic regulations under the Clean Air Act. Under President Trump, EPA exempted the project from rules that require pollution controls on marine tank vessel loading operations. Click here to review public comments submitted in Feb. 2021 on the proposed permit.
  • July 2022: EPA investigators issue a report in response to a whistleblower complaint that Colorado air regulators do not follow their own procedures when issuing permits to polluting industries, which could impact air quality and public health. The report reviews the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) minor new source review (NSR) permit program. Click here to learn more about submitting a whistleblower complaint to EPA.
  • June 11, 2022: DOJ files suit against EES Coke Battery LLC on behalf of EPA, alleging that the corporation violated the Clean Air Act by illegally emitting thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide from its plant in River Rouge, Michigan. In its press release, EPA notes the surrounding communities’ environmental justice concerns, including high asthma rates. The complaint was filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
  • June 1, 2022: OECA issues new draft program guidance for FY 2023-2024 for regions and states, including new model cleanup documents with EJ-oriented requirements. For example, the model language requires potentially responsible parties (PRPs) to provide information to the public in the dominant language of the community. (ECRCO and OEJ also released draft program guidance for FY 2023-2024. For more see “Title VI and ECRCO” above).
  • May 26, 2022: EPA denies an air pollution permit for the UOP LLC Chemical Manufacturing plant near Africatown in Mobile County, Alabama. In the decision, EPA notes the potential harmful impacts of air pollution on Africatown residents. Africatown is a historic site founded by the survivors of the Clotilda’s fial voyage, the last known U.S. ship that brought enslaved people from Africa to enter slavery in the United States. Many descendants of these families still live in the community today. The denial was in response to a petition submitted by the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP). The facility will continue to operate under the previous permit until issues with the new permit are resolved.
  • May 26, 2022: EPA releases new EJ guidance for agency lawyers and policymakers, called EPA Legal Tools to Advance Environmental Justice. The document provides new guidance on implementing environmental laws and adds a new chapter on civil rights enforcement, including the need to consider community input when investigating and resolving complaints. The guidance also expressly prohibits “discriminatory siting,” and “provides authority for EPA to address impacts on communities that are disproportionately impacted due to the siting of multiple polluting sources.”
  • Mar. 18, 2022: EPA revokes a Trump-era memo that alleged that the practice of “sue and settle” allowed environmental groups to meddle in agency rulemaking. The replacement memo states that the previous memo “contained inaccurate characterizations of the agency’s settlement practices.” The new memo establishes steps to enhance public awareness of claims and public review of settlements, including posting notices on the website, sending automatic email notifications of new settlement documents, and making proposed settlements available for comment for at least 30 days.
  • Mar. 9, 2022: EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sign a memorandum of understanding to coordinate enforcement actions to implement environmental justice goals. The MOU calls for compliance inspections specifically for facilities located in communities disproportionately affected by pollution, strengthened coordination in reducing pollution burdens in these communities, increased transparency with the public, and more. This MOU follows a similar environmental justice MOU in California that was signed in September 2021. The two agencies plan to hold a series of listening sessions for public input on the scope of work and implementation.
  • Feb. 28, 2022: EPA agrees with the Government Accountability Office’s report recommending that EPA ensure chemical facilities consider EJ and climate change risks as part of its Risk Management Program (RMP) rule. This rule requires chemical facilities to develop a risk management plan to detect and address accidental releases. The report recommends, among other things, that EPA bolster enforcement efforts, consider social vulnerability of communities that could be impacted when selecting which facilities to inspect, and provide guidance on the incorporation of climate change factors into the RMPs. 
  • Jan. 26, 2022: As a follow-up to Administrator Regan’s “Journey to Justice Tour,” EPA announces new programs and policies to address disproportionate pollution impacts on EJ communities. These include new agency-wide initiatives: OECA’s commitment to conduct unannounced inspections of suspected non-compliant facilities; a new monitoring project called the Pollution Accountability Team (PAT) to launch in Spring 2022; and a new proposed screening methodology to evaluate chemical risk to fenceline communities. EPA also commits to targeted actions in EJ communities in MI, LA, and TX. Click here to read more about EPA’s targeted actions in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
  • Jan. 20, 2022: EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) recaps its accomplishments for fiscal year 2021, including a new emphasis on enforcement efforts in environmental justice communities. These actions include commitments of more than $8.5 billion from facilities to return to compliance, with 28% of those commitments addressing EJ concerns. Almost 30% of criminal defendants charged  committed environmental crimes that impacted EJ communities. The civil enforcement program concluded 599 cases addressing noncompliance in areas with EJ concerns, resulting in reductions of 18 million pounds of air pollutants and 15.2 million pounds of water pollutants. More information can be found here (click “Environmental Justice” in the top menu to see EJ-specific updates)
  • Jan. 13, 2022: EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) releases its annual enforcement and compliance data for FY 2020. The report emphasizes that “of the cases concluded in FY 2020 by EPA’s enforcement program, 531 cases covering 562 facilities addressed noncompliance in areas with potential environmental justice concerns. Those enforcement cases are estimated to reduce pollution in these areas by 37.4 million pounds.” The report also covers other progress around civil and criminal enforcement, compliance assurance, Superfund clean-up, COVID-19 impacts, and more.
  • Jan. 5, 2022: EPA readies two key guidance documents for release in 2022. The first, Guidelines for Cumulative Risk Assessment Planning and Problem Formation, will analyze cumulative risks from layered chemical exposures, particularly risks to vulnerable groups. The guidance was expected to be released in 2021 but has been pushed to 2022. The second is guidance intended to help state recipients of EPA funds ensure permitting and other actions comply with the Civil Rights Act and do result in disproportionate impacts. This guidance is expected in late 2022. 
  • Dec. 23, 2021: EPA announces that it plans to withdraw a Trump administration decision that had allowed the state of Oklahoma, not tribal nations, to regulate environmental issues on tribal land. EPA is seeking comment on the proposal until Jan. 31, 2022. More information and details on how to submit comments can be found here.
  • Dec. 2, 2021: EPA stops the only uranium mill in the country from processing waste from a Superfund site in Washington state because of potentially excessive radon emissions in violation of the Clean Air Act’s national emissions standards. This is seen as a win by the White Mesa Native American community of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, who have been seeking action on this issue for about a decade. The company plans to challenge the decision. 
  • Nov. 15, 2021: The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) announces that it has approved an air permit for an asphalt company to build a new facility, despite opposition. In September, EPA requested that EGLE delay finalizing the permit to conduct a cumulative impact analysis for neighboring low-income communities of color, and consider relocating the facility based on the outcome of that analysis. EGLE states that in issuing the permit, it is in full compliance with federal and state law, citing the limits of current laws and rules to address the environmental justice concerns raised by EPA and communities.
  • Oct. 27, 2021: Environmental justice advocates in Louisiana submit an overfile request asking EPA to intervene in a draft settlement between the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and a local steel company, Nucor Steel Louisiana, to protect the health and property of the people living in the environmental justice community of St. James Parish. (An “overfiling request” is a request for the federal government to intervene where a state enforcement agency is not adequately prosecuting a violation of federal law). The petition asks EPA to investigate, assess, and impose all available penalties against Nucor for air permit violations that have been occurring since 2014. Currently the draft settlement only fines the company 28 cents per pound of excess pollution. 
  • Sep. 27, 2021: EPA’s Office of Inspector General releases a report on how the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a need for additional tribal drinking water assistance and oversight in EPA regions 9 and 10. The report recommended better training, technical and financial support, sanitary surveys, and incorporating lessons learned from the pandemic into tribal drinking water systems.
  • Sep. 16, 2021: In a first-time request, EPA Region 5 Acting Administrator Cheryl Newton urges the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to consider asking an asphalt company to move a planned facility to a different location in an air permit review rather than build in a mostly low-income community of color near Flint, MI. EPA requests that EGLE delay finalizing the permit to conduct a cumulative impacts analysis of the facility’s emissions because it may show a “potential for disproportionate impacts” on the residents. On September 30, EGLE issued a statement that it would take time to review the permit and respond to public comment. 
  • Sep. 10, 2021: EPA and the California Environmental Protection Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase enforcement in communities that are “overburdened by pollution.”
  • Aug. 31, 2021: 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.
  • July 15, 2021: EPA issues an emergency administrative order directing officials in Clarksburg, West Virginia to identify homes and businesses with lead service pipes after children were found to have elevated lead levels and drinking water samples tested above the federal action limit. The last time the EPA issued an emergency administrative order was in 2004. 
  • July 12, 2021: The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) sends a letter of recommendations and calls to action to EPA after the first 100 days of Administrator Regan’s time in the position. These include recommendations for strengthening NEPA review, improving public data tools, and improving coordination between the NEJAC and EPA offices.
  • June 21, 2021: 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, 2021: 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, 2021: Administrator Regan directs all EPA offices to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution.”