Administrator Regan Reaffirms Environmental Justice as a Top Priority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In an April 7 Agencywide memorandum, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or Agency) Administrator Michael Regan recommitted EPA to advancing environmental justice initiatives. Administrator Regan stated that it would be one of his “top priorities” to address environmental effects on communities whose residents are predominately of color, Indigenous, or low-income.

Stating that the Agency has “much more work to do,” Regan directed leadership and staff to coordinate with EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice to ensure that federal environmental law and policy reach all individuals and communities—and to create specific timelines, deliverables, and metrics to measure EPA’s progress. He identified four priorities:

  1. strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in affected communities;
  2. incorporate environmental justice in regulatory development processes and when considering regulatory options to maximize benefits to affected, underserved, and Tribal communities;
  3. enhance engagement with underserved communities affected by agency decisions and policies, including robust consultation with Tribal officials;
  4. prioritize benefits to underserved communities in grant applications consistent with the Justice40 initiative, the administration’s goal to provide 40% of the benefits of federal investments to disadvantaged communities, with particular focus on investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation of legacy pollution, and clean water infrastructure.

EPA’s focus on Tribal communities implements President Joe Biden’s memorandum directing federal agencies to improve the United States’ relationships with Tribal Nations. Federal agency action plans to implement policies outlined in former President Barack Obama’s November 5, 2009 Presidential Memorandum on Tribal Consultation are to be finalized by April 26, 2021.

Administrator Regan’s directive follows a March 30 meeting of the new White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which will advise the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Environmental Justice Interagency Council and recommend how to address environmental justice in minority and low-income populations.

President Biden’s request for fiscal year 2022 discretionary funding proposes substantial funding to support these efforts, including $5 million for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division to “tackle environmental justice,” $450 million to facilitate climate mitigation, resilience, adaptation, and environmental justice projects in Indian Country, and a $1.4 billion investment in marginalized and overburdened communities that includes $936 million for a new initiative at the EPA — the Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative to “create good-paying union jobs, clean up pollution, and secure environmental justice for communities that have been left behind.”

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