Integrating Environmental Justice Into Our Work

We work to achieve our mission to protect public health and the environment in a myriad of ways by providing for grants to states, incentive programs, and technical assistance – but we also issue rules. And, because we’re committed to environmental justice, we want to ensure that our regulations serve all people, including those who are often the most impacted by environmental harm and public health concerns.

We’ve been integrating environmental justice into our rules for years. Today, we’re advancing our efforts by releasing our final Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of a Regulatory Action. Building on our July 2010 interim guidance, this is an essential resource that gives our rulemaking teams the tools, guidance and specific strategies they need to consider environmental justice. This final guidance helps us expand the scope and impact we have in American communities.

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The guidance will also continue the commitment we’ve had to environmental justice since President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 directing federal agencies to address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations. Over the past year, our rulemaking teams have been hard at work engaging communities, learning about the environmental impacts that affect them, and developing rules with these considerations in mind. Here are a few examples:

  • Earlier this year, we released our final Definition of Solid Waste Rule, which addresses the disproportionate impacts on minority and low-income populations from when hazardous materials are mismanaged and sent to recycling. We conducted a rigorous environmental justice analysis that examined the location of recycling facilities and their proximity and potential impact to adjacent residents. This process led to a final rule that encourages safe and legitimate recycling, and that gives communities a voice prior to recycling operations beginning.
  • In June of 2014, we proposed an updated rule to achieve further controls on toxic air emissions from petroleum refineries. In addition to evaluating the lessons learned from enforcement settlements, and data analysis from an extensive data collection effort, we conducted robust community engagement. This included community conference calls, webinars, trainings and public hearings to learn from those affected, and help them understand how the proposed rule could help. The proposed rule includes requirements that will benefit these communities, including emission controls for storage tanks, flares and coking units; higher combustion efficiency for flaring operations; and monitoring of air concentrations at the fenceline of refinery facilities.
  • In March of 2014, we published a proposed rule to revise the current Worker Protection Standard, designed to protect the nation’s two million farmworkers and their families from exposure to pesticides. It will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by workers in other jobs. In developing the proposed and final rules, we sought extensive input from the farmworker community. The final rule expected this fall will help protect farm workers and their families through better training, increased access to information, improved safety precautions, and modernized compliance standards.

These are just three examples – see more by reading our memo to EPA staff announcing the final guidance. We take seriously our obligation to lead on environmental justice, and to set an example for others. Administrator McCarthy has set the tone, and this final guidance supports her leadership. It’s another way we’re doing our part to fulfill the spirit of Executive Order 12898, and to protect our environment and every American’s fundamental right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live on clean land.

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