WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – Following a campaign promise, the Biden administration on Thursday announced a broad enforcement strategy aimed at holding industrial pollutants responsible for the damage they do to poor and minority communities.
See Garland’s comment in the player above.
The strategy includes the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice within the Justice Department, which focuses on “fenceline communities” exposed to air and water pollution from chemical plants, refineries and other industrial sites.
The plan also reinstates a dysfunctional program in which industry-paid fines go to river cleanups, health clinics or other programs that benefit the environment or public health. The program was used by presidents on both sides before ending up in the Trump administration.
“While violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, Indigenous communities and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the damage caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. Said in a press conference.
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“And for too long, these communities have faced obstacles in accessing the justice they deserve,” he said.
“No American who needs to live, work, or send their kids to school in their neighborhood poses an unreasonable share of environmental hazards,” said Associate Attorney General Vanitha Gupta.
President Joe Biden promised during the 2020 campaign that he would establish an environmental justice department within the Justice Department and raise environmental justice issues within the government’s perspective.
In a related development, the White House announced Thursday that advocate Jalon White-Newsom will lead environmental justice efforts at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. White-Newsom replaces Cecilia Martinez, who stepped down in January.
White-Newsom, of Michigan, is the founder and CEO of Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, a consulting firm focused on climate change, public health, and environmental and racial equity.
CEQ President Brenda Mallory called White-Newsom “a strong and effective champion for communities that have been most affected by pollution and subjected to decades of environmental injustice.”
On enforcement, the strategy unveiled Thursday aims to guide the work of staff throughout the Justice Department, including U.S. attorneys around the country, to begin a renewed focus on environmental justice issues, Garland and Gupta. he said.
The new office will “prioritize meaningful and constructive engagement with the communities most affected by environmental crime and injustice,” Garland said. “Whenever possible, these efforts will directly respond to the needs and concerns of the community.”
Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Regan said the “partnership” between his agency and the Justice Department “has never been stronger” and will ensure the federal government does “taxes to protect overloaded and underserved communities across America”. can.
The strategy follows a series of enforcement actions announced by Regan in January to address air pollution, unsafe drinking water and other problems plaguing minority communities in three Gulf Coast states that Regan visited in November.
The plan includes the installation of unannounced inspection and air monitoring equipment of chemical plants, refineries and other industrial sites in Louisiana’s “chemical corridor” to increase enforcement at a series of chemical and plastics plants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The region has several hotspots where cancer risks are well above the national level.
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The EPA also issued a notice to the city of Jackson, Mississippi, stating that its aging and drinking water system violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency also said it was moving forward on cleaning up creosote contamination from a site in Houston now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The site has been linked to higher cancer rates in a historically black neighborhood in the city’s Fifth Ward.
Since taking over at the EPA in March 2021, Regan has made environmental justice a priority. The week-long “Journey to Justice” tour in November aimed to highlight areas in the American South that have long been marginalized and most affected by pollution.
Biden requested $1.4 million for the Office of Environmental Justice in his budget proposal. Cynthia Ferguson, an attorney in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division, will serve as acting director. The Justice Department said the office will support environmental justice investigations and litigation and work with communities across the country.
A rule to be published in the Federal Register would restore the department’s ability to use supplemental environmental projects, or SEPs, as part of settlements with industrial pollutants. The projects aim to bring environmental and public health benefits to communities directly affected by the underlying violations.
A 2007 agreement with Texas-based energy company Valero included $4.25 million in fines and $232 million in pollution controls at refineries in Tennessee, Ohio and Texas. The company was required to spend at least $1 million to increase efforts by a health center in Port Arthur, Texas, to diagnose and treat asthma and other respiratory problems.