EPA Will Ramp Up Environmental Enforcement, Focus on EJ Communities

EPA’s acting chief of enforcement sent a memo to staff last week (that The Hill obtained) calling for them to “[s]trengthen enforcement in overburdened communities by resolving environmental noncompliance through remedies with tangible benefits for the community” with a particular emphasis on “cornerstone environmental statutes.”  This guidance appears to be implementing Administrator Michael Regan’s directive from earlier in April to strengthen enforcement and help advance the protection of communities, using existing resources to advance environmental justice (EJ) goals.  EPA staff is also asked to “think creatively” about developing settlement agreements related to pollution-related noncompliance — this is a tactic used in lieu of monetary penalties that the Trump administration had ended but that the Justice Department recently revived.Why This Matters: The Biden administration can immediately make progress correcting environmental injustice through fair and strong enforcement of current laws.  As was reported earlier this week, for example, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) recently found that last year thirteen U.S. oil refineries emitted more of the cancer-causing chemical benzene than was permitted by the government.  These facilities are often found in minority and poor communities. Cleanups can happen more quickly with the creative use of settlement agreements that require the polluter to remediate its mess.

EJ Is a Priority for Team Biden

As The Hill explains, the Biden administration has said that addressing the environmental issues that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities is a major priority, and they are putting real money behind their talk —  The White House included $1.4 billion for EJ in its budget request for fiscal 2022. 05-06-21

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