Sidley Environmental and Energy Brief Quarterly: Advancing Environmental Justice Through the Biden Administration

In the second quarter of 2022, the Biden administration took steps to implement the President’s whole-of-government Environmental Justice (EJ) Strategy. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ or the Department), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or the Agency), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have each announced initiatives to address JE in various functions of the agency. Additionally, the White House provided an update on funding available for disadvantaged communities.

  1. DOJ: Released Law Enforcement Strategy to Combat JE

On May 5, 2022, the DOJ unveiled a comprehensive JE application strategy (the Strategy) in accordance with Executive Order 14008, Addressing the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad (EO 14008). EO 14008 directed the Attorney General to “develop a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy, which will seek to provide prompt remedies for systemic environmental violations and contaminations, and damage to natural resources…” .

The strategy, which the DOJ drafted with input from the EPA, EE advocates, and community organizations, directs the Department to partner with DOJ offices, each U.S. Attorney’s office, and federal agencies to treat JE. Specifically, the DOJ must prioritize cases that will reduce public health and environmental harm to overburdened and underserved communities; make strategic use of all available legal tools to address EJ’s concerns; engage meaningfully with affected communities; and promote transparency regarding EE law enforcement efforts and their results.

To achieve these goals, the Department created and charged a new office dedicated to EE within the Division of Environmental and Natural Resources – the Office of Environmental Justice – and announcement the reversal of the Trump administration’s ban on additional environmental projects in DOJ settlements (reversal of SEPs).

We discussed the strategy in more detail here and the reversal of SEPs here.

  1. White House: Justice40 Action Week

On May 23, 2022, the White House announcement a Justice40 week of action to document the progress of the administration’s Justice40 initiative – a whole-of-government plan established by EO 14008 to deliver 40% of overall climate investment benefits to disadvantaged communities and track performance toward this goal through the creation of an EJ dashboard. As part of the Justice40 week of action, the White House announced the following:

  • a new White House EJ website, which provides a centralized location dedicated to the administration’s EJ priorities
  • a series of Justice40 stakeholder engagements to discuss and receive feedback on delivering Justice40 benefits to disadvantaged communities
  • $500 Million Bipartisan Infrastructure Act Funding to EPA for Replacement of National Bus Fleet with U.S.-Made Zero-Emission Buses
  • a summary of the $29 billion funding opportunities provided by the Justice40 initiative
  • on May 23, 2022, report submitted by the White House Council of Environmental Quality to Congress, which outlines the administration’s response to the recommendations of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council – a council created by EO 14008 and formed to “ensure that [the] the work of the administration is informed by the ideas, expertise and lived experience of environmental justice leaders from across the country”
  1. EPA Releases Expanded Legal Toolkit to Advance Criminal Justice and Civil Rights

On May 26, 2022, the EPA released a guidance document titled EPA Legal Tools to Advance Environmental Justice (Legal Tools) — an update EJ Plan 2014 Legal tools – when the Agency identifies the legal authorities which, according to the EPA, “mandate or provide the [A]discretion to consider the impacts of its actions on environmental justice. According to the EPA, the purpose of these guidelines is to “help [EPA] decision-makers understand their powers to consider and address environmental justice and equity in decision-making, and to promote meaningful engagement.

Legal Tools covers a wide range of regulatory programs by media (eg air, water, waste) as well as other programs such as grant and assistance programs. The guidelines identify EPA’s authority to address JE in regulatory functions such as rulemaking, permits, and contracts. For example, in the context of the authorization, the EPA describes the authority to consider cumulative effects, to require additional monitoring of emissions from regulated facilities, and to expand opportunities for community outreach and engagement. public.

  1. DHHS: Launch of the EJ office

On May 31, 2022, the DHHS established an office of environmental justice within the office of the assistant secretary for health. According to DHHS, EO 14008 “directs agencies, including [DHHS] make the achievement of environmental justice an integral part of its mission by developing programs, policies and activities to address the disproportionately high and harmful impacts on human health, the environment, climate and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities. According to the announcement, the newly formed office is tasked with “protecting[ing] the health of disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations on the front lines of pollution and other environmental hazards that affect health.

DHHS reports that the duties of the OEJ include the following:

  • lead initiatives that integrate GE into DHHS’s mission to improve the health of disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations across the country
  • develop and implement a DHHS-wide strategy on JE and health
  • coordinate DHHS EJ annual reports
  • provide the DHHS Civil Rights Office with EJ expertise to support compliance under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • promote training opportunities to build a CY workforce

Later this week, we will publish an additional blog post to highlight key EJ actions at the state level during Q2.


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