As we reported at the beginning of the year, President Biden has been making environmental justice one of his priorities since long before he took office. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently took a step to add some teeth to the Biden Administration’s commitment to increase environmental enforcement in communities disproportionally impacted by pollution.
On April 30, 3031, the Acting Assistant Administrator of the EPA issued a memorandum to strengthen enforcement in communities with environmental justice concerns. The enforcement memo calls upon EPA to use existing resources to help protect these communities and advance the Administration’s environmental justice goals. The memo calls for:
- Increased facility inspections in overburdened communities.
EPA reportedly plans to gather inspection-related data in order to develop new inspection goals to protect communities impacted by environmental concerns, and intends to evaluate national and regional programmatic inspection priorities to determine which ones address the most significant threats to these communities. It then plans to gather information about the number and nature of inspections that have occurred over time in communities with environmental justice concerns. Once that information is gathered, EPA will set new inspection goals to ensure that environmental justice concerns are being prioritized.
- Strengthen enforcement in overburdened communities by resolving environmental noncompliance by using remedies that provide tangible benefits for the community.
According to the memo, EPA wants to start thinking more creatively to solve environmental issues through settlements that not only penalize the polluter, but also actually provide a benefit to the impacted community. In addition to traditional penalties and injunctive relief, EPA plans to seek more creative compliance measures, such as fence-line monitoring and other transparency tools. Further, EPA would like to significantly increase the use of supplemental environmental projects (SEPs). SEPs allow EPA to redirect money from what a polluter could have paid as a penalty into environmental benefit projects that have a direct impact on the community. While the prior administration had limited the use of SEPs, the Department of Justice is reevaluating that rule, and if it is repealed, the memo directs EPA staffers to “actively consider” the use of SEPs.
- Increase engagement with communities about enforcement cases that most directly impact them.
EPA knows that an informed community is an engaged community, and the memo looks to increase and enhance efforts to provide information to communities about the enforcement cases that impact them. EPA plans to accomplish this goal through public meetings, press releases, and online resources. EPA also would like to increase opportunities for communities to actually engage in the development of cleanup and reuse agreements. EPA acknowledges that these communications plans will likely need to be developed on a case-by-case or regional basis but, through increased information, EPA expects that these communities will be better able to manage risk as well as monitor compliance at local facilities.