EPA Puts ‘Environmental Justice’ Front and Center in Its Rulemaking Process

July 28, 2010 - 10:17 AM
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a 55-page "guidance" to help its employees 'advance environmental justice' for low-income and minority communities.

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a 55-page “guidance” to help its employees “advance environmental justice” for low-income and minority communities.
 
“Achieving environmental justice is an Agency priority and should be factored into every decision,” the document says.

The move comes 16 years after President William Clinton signed an executive order directing every federal agency to "make achieving environmental justice part of its mission." And Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to make "environmental justice policies a priority within the EPA."

'Fair treatment and meaningful involvement'
 
The EPA says its new guidelines will help its rule-writers identify potential environmental justice concerns, and it instructs them to analyze the impact of their rules on low-income and minority populations.
 
The EPA defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, particularly minority, low-income, and indigenous populations, and tribes, in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
 
The guide states that from now on -- in the process of developing rules, policy statements, risk assessments, and other regulatory actions -- EPA managers and staffers must first ask themselves, “Does this action involve a topic that is likely to be of particular interest to or have particular impact upon minority, low-income, or indigenous populations, or tribes?”
 
If the answer is yes, the rule-writers must reach out to the affected minority and/or low-income communities. One section of the guide explains how EPA rule-writers may have to make “special efforts” to connect with people who may be uneducated or non-English-speaking.
 
“It will likely be necessary to tailor outreach materials to be concise, understandable, and readily accessible to the communities you are trying to reach,” the guide says.

"Historically, the low-income and minority communities that carry the greatest environmental burdens haven't had a voice in our policy development or rulemaking,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in announcing the release of the guide.
 
"This plan is part of my ongoing commitment to give all communities a seat at the decision-making table. Making environmental justice a consideration in our rulemaking changes both the perception and practice of how we work with overburdened communities, and opens this conversation up to new voices."

The Environmental Justice Guidance document runs about 55 pages, including cover memos and various charts, diagrams and checklists for incorporating environmental justice into EPA action plans.
 
According to Jackson, it outlines the “multiple steps that every EPA program office can take” to consider the needs of “overburdened neighborhoods.”
 
The document notes that low-income and minority communities often bear the greatest environmental burdens because they are more likely to be located near congested freeways or industrial areas, for example.
 
The guide directs EPA rule-writers and decisions-makers to respond to three basic questions as they develop rules and regulations:
 
1. How did your public participation process provide transparency and meaningful participation for minority, low-income, and indigenous populations, and tribes?
 
2. How did you identify and address existing and new disproportionate environmental and public health impacts on minority, low-income, and indigenous populations?
 
3. How did actions taken under #1 and #2 impact the outcome or final decision?
 
“I encourage all EPA staff to become familiar with environmental justice concepts and the many ways they should inform our decision-making,” Jackson said in a message accompanying the guide.

The EPA is now seeking public feedback on how to best implement and improve the guide. It expects to release a revised document, based on lessons learned, later this year.