The EPA has announced that it is establishing a national office charged with advancing environmental justice and civil rights. EPA created the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights Office by merging three programs at the agency: the Office of Environmental Justice, the External Civil Rights Compliance Office, and the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center.
The new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights will dedicate more than 200 staff across 10 regions. The office will be led by a U.S. Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator, to be announced at a later date.
“From day one, President Biden and EPA have been committed to delivering progress on environmental justice and civil rights and ensuring that underserved and overburdened communities are at the forefront of our work,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “With the launch of a new national program office, we are embedding environmental justice and civil rights into the DNA of EPA and ensuring that people who’ve struggled to have their concerns addressed see action to solve the problems they’ve been facing for generations.”
Administrator Regan announced the creation of the new office alongside environmental justice and civil rights leaders in Warren County, North Carolina, which was the site of protests 40 years ago that launched the environmental justice movement.
The new office will oversee the implementation and delivery of a $3 billion climate and environmental justice block grant program created by the Inflation Reduction Act, a critical component of the law’s historic $60 billion investment in environmental justice. The office also will ensure EPA’s implementation of other funding programs provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and regular appropriations meet or exceed the President’s Justice40 Initiative.
The new office will:
Improve and enhance the agency’s ability to infuse equity, civil rights, and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs.
Support the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.
Engage communities with environmental justice concerns and increase support for community-led action through grants and technical assistance.
Enforce federal civil rights laws that, together, prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin (including on the basis of limited-English proficiency); sex; disability; or age by applicants for and recipients of federal financial assistance from EPA.
Provide services and expertise in alternative dispute resolution, environmental conflict resolution, consensus-building, and collaborative problem-solving.
Dr. Beverly Wright, founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said the office will create new and environmentally favorable opportunities for communities disproportionately impacted by decades of environmental injustice. “Through this new effort, funding and resources will finally make it to the communities that need it most.,” she said.
Dr. Robert Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University, said the work to advance environmental justice goes hand in hand with the fight for civil rights, and EPA’s efforts under this new office will deliver progress for the communities that need action now.”