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The Justice Department’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) released its first-ever Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy Annual Report today, highlighting the department’s recent accomplishments in cases with environmental justice concerns and outlining the department’s strategy for engaging with and delivering results to communities long overburdened by pollution.
Last year, the department created OEJ within the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) with a mandate to engage all Justice Department bureaus, components and offices in the collective pursuit of environmental justice. The department also created a Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy to guide its work in this area. Today’s OEJ report includes highlights of important environmental justice cases from the last year as well as key collaboration efforts with federal, Tribal, state and local stakeholders.
“Advancing environmental justice is a key part of the Justice Department’s mission,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Justice Department. “OEJ’s report highlights our recent successes in protecting and restoring healthy environments and communities, including efforts concerning clean air and water, worker safety and quality of life. We will continue to work to defend and bring relief to overburdened and underserved communities.”
“Communities of color, indigenous communities and low-income communities too often feel the greatest effects of pollution and climate change,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of ENRD. “We recognize that, and we’re committed to addressing the outsized impacts felt by such communities throughout the United States.”
“It is imperative that we use all the legal authorities available to address longstanding inequities that deny people healthy and safe communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to coordinate with our federal partners in using our civil rights laws to advance environmental justice for historically underserved, overburdened and marginalized communities.”
“I’m honored to serve the American people at OEJ and engage with communities throughout the country and coordinate with Justice Department and other federal entities to find solutions to environmental and health hazards,” said Director Cynthia M. Ferguson of OEJ. “Whether it’s securing the abatement of lead-based paint in lower income properties in Chicago, working to restore functioning water and wastewater systems in Jackson, Mississippi, or providing civil rights and trauma-based interview training – our efforts benefit all Americans by promoting a more equitable society.”
An example of the department’s work under its Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy includes the Civil Rights Division’s first ever Title VI environmental justice resolution agreement in Lowndes County, Alabama. The division’s investigation evaluated actions by the state’s health department in operating a wastewater disposal program and whether those actions discriminated against Black residents. Ultimately, the Justice Department reached an agreement with the Alabama Department of Public Health to put it on a path to developing safe wastewater disposal and management systems.
ENRD also reached agreements in a different water management case in Jackson, Mississippi, where it negotiated interim orders with city and state officials to name a court-appointed manager and begin to stabilize Jackson’s drinking water and wastewater systems. OEJ has worked with a coalition of federal, state and local government entities to build an outreach strategy for Jackson in support of the enforcement action and to ensure that residents and workers have an opportunity to engage in the enforcement process.
The Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy includes provisions for the Justice Department to partner with other federal enforcement agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General. The Justice Department is also working to strengthen coordination with Tribes and identify and prioritize affirmative litigation involving Tribal environmental justice issues.
Pursuant to the Strategy, ENRD and the Civil Rights Division have held listening sessions, and ENRD has and is scheduled to host regional Tribal summits, to increase community engagement and coordination in pursuing actionable solutions. And OEJ’s report highlights new performance measures to promote transparency regarding environmental justice enforcement efforts.
The report is available on OEJ’s website, and you can read by clicking here.
Updated October 13, 2023
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