LENEXA, Kan. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Land and Emergency Management announced it has finalized the agency’s “EJ Action Plan: Building Up Environmental Justice in EPA’s Land Protection and Cleanup Programs” (EJ Action Plan). The plan highlights projects, tools, and practices to be applied to the Superfund, Brownfields, Emergency Response, Solid Waste Management, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Corrective Action, and Underground Storage Tank programs. The plan aligns with President Biden’s commitment to elevate environmental justice to the highest levels of the federal government and advances the agency’s commitment to delivering justice and equity for all.
Last week, EPA announced the creation of the new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights to uphold this commitment. The Office of Land and Emergency Management will work with this new office to ensure that the relevant actions described in the EJ Action Plan adhere to the agency’s priority that entities receiving any federal financial assistance from EPA comply with the federal civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin (including limited English proficiency), disability, sex and age.
“From day one, I pledged that the perspectives of underserved and overburdened communities across the country would be at the forefront of EPA’s decision-making.” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA’s EJ Action Plan reflects the voices of communities who’ve historically been left behind and will enable stronger and faster progress in addressing contaminated land across the country.”
The historic $3.5 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments will significantly enhance implementation of the plan, including the first wave of $1 billion to initiate cleanup and clear the backlog of 49 previously unfunded Superfund sites and accelerate cleanup at dozens of other sites across the country.
When finalizing the EJ Action Plan, EPA incorporated feedback from various stakeholders, including Tribal partners. EPA heard a strong interest in having a larger role in our decision-making when it comes to the Superfund cleanup process, with the goal of improving EPA’s understanding of foundational values. EPA also received input regarding the eligibility requirements for entities and/or projects to receive new Infrastructure Grants, and the Recycling Education and Outreach Grants being funded by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The EJ Action Plan is a working document and EPA will be reporting on progress as part of a whole-of-government and EPA-wide effort to address the nation’s environmental justice challenges, in-line with the priorities identified by President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan.
The plan includes four main goals:
- Strengthening compliance with cornerstone environmental statutes: This includes developing a “Good Governance” process and referral list to help address follow-up actions on communities’ environmental concerns.
- Incorporating environmental justice considerations during the regulatory development process: This includes assessing impacts to pollution-burdened, underserved, and tribal communities when developing Office of Land and Emergency Management regulations, while developing tools to identify, track, and consider the implications of potential environmental justice-related factors throughout the Superfund process.
- Improving community engagement in rulemakings, permitting decisions, and policies: This includes providing earlier and more frequent engagement with pollution-burdened and underserved communities in carrying out Office of Land and Emergency Management programs, and increasing technical support and risk communication resources for communities through the Agency’s Technical Assistance Services for Communities program and various grants.
- Implementing President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative: This includes providing direct and indirect benefits to underserved communities with grant application resources and in making grant award decisions, to the extent allowed by law.
The EJ Action Plan also complements the recommendations for integrating environmental justice into the cleanup and redevelopment of Superfund and other contaminated sites highlighted in the May 2021 National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) report titled “Superfund Remediation and Redevelopment for Environmental Justice Communities.” The agency appreciates and supports the NEJAC’s overall goal to continue to address barriers, develop solutions, and recommend best practices for improving EPA’s ability to expedite Superfund cleanups. EPA also embraces the need for better outcomes in communities where there are unique burdens and vulnerabilities for populations living in and around Superfund sites.
In 2021, President Biden issued two executive orders – Executive Order 13985 (Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government) and Executive Order 14008 (Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad) – that directed federal agencies to promote and work toward proactively achieving environmental justice. Federal agencies were directed to develop and implement policies and strategies that strengthen compliance and enforcement, incorporate environmental justice considerations in their work, increase community engagement, and ensure that at least 40 percent of the benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy flow to underserved communities.
This EJ Action Plan builds on the best lessons in existing and new cleanup programs, incorporates public input on those programs, and works toward the implementation of projects and practices to achieve EPA’s environmental justice goals. Using new recommendations along with years of cleanup experiences, success stories, and lessons learned from working toward environmental justice, the agency is committed to new approaches and investments of time, staffing and funding that will improve quality of cleanups in communities with environmental justice concerns.
Learn more about the EJ Action Plan for EPA’s Land Protection and Cleanup Programs.