US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announced on September 24 that the agency is establishing a new national office focused on advancing environmental justice and civil rights.
The new office, titled the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR), merges three existing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs: the Office of Environmental Justice, the External Civil Rights Compliance Office, and the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center.
Once established, the OEJECR will have over 200 EPA staff across the nation. The assistant administrator of the OEJECR will be announced and undergo the process of confirmation by the US Senate at a later date.
The creation of this office is consistent with President Biden’s directive in the “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” The executive order, which was issued in January 2021, directed federal agencies to develop “programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts.”
Notably, the OEJECR will be overseeing the implementation and delivery of the $3 billion climate and environmental justice block grant program created by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. According to EPA, the OEJECR will also focus on improving the agency’s ability to infuse environmental justice and civil rights principles into all EPA practices, policies, and programs; engaging communities with environmental justice concerns and increasing support for community-led action; and enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age by applicants for and recipients of federal financial assistance from EPA.
In addition to the anticipated duties listed by EPA, the creation of the OEJECR could also help create additional clarity and consistency for the regulated community. Because environmental statutes and regulations do not explicitly establish a set of standards and requirements surrounding environmental justice, there has been some uncertainty regarding what the Biden-Harris administration’s focus on environmental justice means for EPA’s expectations for regulated entities.
Creation of a nationwide EPA office focused on environmental justice not only underscores the Biden-Harris administration’s attention to this topic, but it is also likely to result in environmental justice issues taking a more prominent role in EPA enforcement and regulation.
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 EPA, “EPA Launches New National Office Dedicated to Advancing Environmental Justice and Civil Rights,” Sept. 24, 2022.