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The EPA thinks about how to protect environmental justice decisions in court

Agency officials said Thursday that the EPA is working hard on its law enforcement officers to enforce its environmental justice program across the US and encourage the team and states to do the same.

That push comes as environmental justice advocates across the country face tough battles to put extra protections on the books, especially in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Robin Morris Colin, senior advocate for environmental protection at the Environmental Protection Agency. “And I think it’s fair to admit it.”

But federal states, including New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and others, are now “looking at their local authority to see if they can start using and actually use the power they have to implement some of these issues. Environmental Justice,”

Some states are already having problems trying to implement the Biden administration’s ambitious environmental justice agenda, which includes steering at least 40% of the overall benefits to disadvantaged communities from federal clean energy investments.

Objective rules

Dell of the West Virginia House of Delegates. Evan Hansen (D) said he has already seen pushback in his state. An official from the Department of Environmental Protection said the agency was “powerless to legislate and enforce environmental justice recently, and lacked EPA guidance.”

“His exact quote is, ‘This thing becomes a lot more subjective,'” said Hansen, who did not name the official. “And if you’re in the regulatory business, subjectivity isn’t helpful.”

Many state regulatory agencies “want to do the right thing and look for something less subjective because they really care about issuing licenses and then go to appeals and court,” Hansen said. “They are looking for some way to harden their decision so that they can defend them in court.”

Matthew Tejada, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, said it would be better “to have legislation to cut some such things.” But the agency’s existing laws have already equipped it with enough firepower to regulate it, he said.

“The Clean Air Act does not say that it is OK for 10% of the population to breathe air toxins throughout the day,” Tejada said. “The Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act — it doesn’t say that it’s okay for 5% of the population not to have access to safe drinking water.”

Change takes time

The EPA draws on scientific research to ensure its environmental justice measures are not subjective, Tejada said.

“This is a reversal of 50 years of policy and practice and experience, and we are not really making them effective in these communities with cumulative challenges,” Tejada said. May start using regulatory authorities. “

Tejada acknowledged that achieving clarity, regularity and consistency “doesn’t happen overnight.” This is going to be a process where we work together. ”

“States and local governments are at the forefront, innovating and trying and succeeding and failing, and we want to learn from all of that,” he said.

The EPA has already taken some steps to address the issue. In May, the firm released a record listing legal officers at its disposal to detect and correct the unequal effects of pollution on underserved communities.

At Thursday’s meeting, the advisory group called on the EPA to come up with a draft language that would help local enforcement and play a role in meeting the need for collaboration to implement or change policies.

The group said the EPA should urge state governments to include environmental justice and equity principles in their permitting decisions, including talking to parties affected by the permit and considering the cumulative effects.

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