The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) are the organizations responsible for ensuring environmental justice. This means protecting everyone, especially minority and low-income communities, from environmental harm. If they are unsuccessful, an environmental justice attorney advocates for these groups.
Epa’s Goals Related to Environmental Justice
One of the missions of the EPA is to promote environmental justice. The EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
The principle of fair treatment means that no group should have to bear a disproportionate share of the environmental impact of industrial, governmental, or commercial policies or operations. Meaningful involvement means that people should have an opportunity to make decisions that may affect their environment and health. People and agencies with authority to make decisions should ask for input from those who will be affected and consider their concerns when setting policies.
Role of the Office of Environmental Justice
The OEJ was created in 1992. Its mission is to reduce environmental burdens, increase environmental benefits, and work to create healthy and sustainable communities for vulnerable populations.
The OEJ works toward those goals by providing technical and financial assistance to communities and by partnering with community organizations, businesses, industry, academia, and local, state, federal, and tribal governments. The overarching goal, as explained by the OEJ itself, is “to establish partnerships seeking to achieve protection from environmental and health hazards for all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.”
These Organizations Focus on Consistency And Transparency
The EPA aims to provide consistency and clarity regarding issues related to environmental justice. The OEJ has created several tools and resources that take issues related to environmental justice into account when the agency is making decisions on policies and actions.
The EPA has released two documents to help the public better understand how environmental justice influences its decision-making process. Those documents, Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action and Technical Guidance for Assessing Environmental Justice in Regulatory Analysis, aim to provide clarity and consistency.
The National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act provides a framework that can use federal decision-making processes in considering environmental justice. After a four-year review of agency practices, a list of guiding principles and steps was created.
The EPA relies on scientific data to make informed decisions on policies to protect the health and environment of vulnerable populations. EJSCREEN is a tool the EPA has created to provide nationwide data on environmental and demographic matters in a consistent format. The goal is to improve transparency so the public can better understand how the EPA weighs environmental justice when making decisions and helps stakeholders make informed decisions.
EJSCREEN also facilitates dialogue between the EPA and others since all parties can begin discussions with a common set of data.
The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council
The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council provides the EPA’s administrator with independent advice and recommendations. It also holds public meetings to discuss matters related to environmental justice.
Training and Education
The Office of Environmental Justice provides training and coordinates workshops on environmental justice and equitable development for EPA staff, other governmental partners, other stakeholders, and the general public.
Civil Rights Protections to Ensure Environmental Justice
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires federal agencies to ensure that programs and activities that receive federal funding do not discriminate based on race, color, or national origin.
The OEJ collaborates with the EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office to share tools and best practices and to resolve complaints. The EPA’s Office of General Counsel has several discretionary legal authorities that it can use to more fully ensure that programs, policies, and activities it implements do not adversely affect the health and environment of low-income and minority communities.
Partnerships to Serve Communities and Promote Environmental Justice
The OEJ focuses on helping underserved and overburdened communities find holistic solutions via government partnerships, using tools and guidance in measurable and significant ways, and measurable progress on significant environmental and health issues. The Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is a collaborative effort involving 17 federal agencies and White House offices.
The EPA provides direct financial and technical support to help vulnerable communities develop holistic solutions to address environmental and public health concerns. The EPA awards funds through competitive grant programs.
The Technical Assistance Services for Communities Program educates people in vulnerable communities on environmental science, regulations, and EPA policies. It aims to allow people to take active roles in improving their communities.
Partnerships with Indigenous Peoples
As the 2016 protests at Standing Rock highlighted, indigenous communities are all too often left out of discussions of environmental justice, even though they are often most impacted by unjust environmental policies. This is beginning to change.
The EPA is working to implement its policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples by partnering with tribes, indigenous organizations, federal agencies, states, and other interested parties.
The EPA also works with the State Department and other federal agencies to protect the environment and public health of vulnerable populations in other countries. It does that by sharing approaches and best practices.
Taking Action to Ensure Environmental Justice
Environmental justice is a big issue, but there are steps you as an individual can take to advocate for environmental justice in your community. You can vote for candidates who embrace environmental justice, connect with environmental justice activists, and research the environmental laws that affect your neighborhood.
U.S. Marines Harmed By Environmental Injustice
U.S. Marines based at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 are still dealing with environmental injustice today. Many Marines who fought for our freedom were unjustly exposed to a contaminated water supply. As a result, they were later diagnosed with cancer or illness.
If you or a loved one received a diagnosis of cancer or other illness related to the contaminated water supply at Camp Lejeune, you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering.
If you believe you or a family member is a victim of environmental injustice, check and see if there is a class action lawsuit you can join to seek a financial award for your losses.
Legal Assistance to Address Environmental Injustice
Although the government has made some positive steps toward environmental justice, many people in communities across the United States are still suffering. Ben Crump Law, PLLC, has represented victims of environmental injustice and helped them pursue legal action to bring about meaningful change. Call our office to discuss how we can help your community.