Attorney General Launches New Office of Environmental Justice
Courtesy of The United States Department of Justice.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland was joined by EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan [last week] in announcing a series of actions to secure environmental justice for all Americans. In addition to launching a new Office of Environmental Justice within the Justice Department, Attorney General Garland also announced a new comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy to guide the Justice Department’s work and issued an Interim Final Rule that will restore the use of supplemental environmental projects in appropriate circumstances.
“Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” said Attorney General Garland. “For far too long, these communities have faced barriers to accessing the justice they deserve. The Office of Environmental Justice will serve as the central hub for our efforts to advance our comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy. We will prioritize the cases that will have the greatest impact on the communities most overburdened by environmental harm.”
“EPA and the Justice Department’s partnership to protect overburdened and underserved communities across America has never been stronger,” said EPA Administrator Regan. “This environmental justice enforcement strategy epitomizes the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to holding polluters accountable as a means to deliver on our environmental justice priorities. Critical to that is the return of Supplemental Environmental Projects as a tool to secure tangible public health benefits for communities harmed by environmental violations.”
Consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta issued a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy to guide the Justice Department’s litigators, investigators, and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide to advance the cause of environmental justice through the enforcement of federal laws. Developed by the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) in partnership with EPA, the strategy will ensure that the entire Department is using all available legal tools to promote environmental justice.
The Justice Department also launched its first-ever Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) within ENRD [last week]. This new office will be a critical resource as the Justice Department implements the new comprehensive enforcement strategy. Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim named Cynthia Ferguson, an experienced ENRD attorney with more than a decade working on environmental justice issues, as Acting Director.
Finally, the Justice Department issued an Interim Final Rule [last week] that will restore the use of supplemental environmental projects in appropriate circumstances and subject to guidelines and limitations set forth in a separate memorandum issued by the Attorney General. For decades before 2017, EPA and ENRD relied upon such projects to provide redress to communities most directly affected by violations of federal environmental laws. For this reason, they are particularly powerful tools for advancing environmental justice. The Justice Department’s Interim Final Rule invites public comment on the new guidelines and limitations, including to inform any future changes to the Justice Department’s approach.
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