The basic premise for EJ is that no community should be subject to greater environmental burdens regardless of race, religion, etc. etc. No new regulations have been passed on EJ. However, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act has been used to justify federal interventions on EJ. By executive order, EJ and Climate have to be considered in any federal agency action. EPA issued revised EPA Legal Tools to Advance Environmental Justice.
EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office issued guidance on permitting to point out that a permit may be denied even though all emissions requirements are met if the source does not meet EJ considerations. EPA is modifying its air monitoring plan to include cumulative impact assessments. This concept has been around for nearly 20 years. In this approach, the cumulative effects of all types of emissions and hazards need to be considered (ie traffic, socio-economic situation, etc.). The idea is that certain communities are subject to additional stressors which make it more difficult for them to cope with added environmental issues. Such evaluations would likely be done at the community level (as opposed to the plant level). A screening tool creates an EJ score for each community. Additional data such as health disparities, climate change, and critical services gaps that are not part of the EJ index calculations are being considered for addition. Threshold levels are being calculated. The ECHO database contains a record of violations. A new tool can be accessed and set up to provide an alert of notification if there has been a violation of a particular compound.
The EPA Nexus Tool provides an overlay of the various screens to identify “hot spots”. Some states are adding EJ SCREEN reports to all permit notices. Some states require an EJ assessment as part of the permitting process. California has a proposed EJ component in their permit process by law. Louisiana has gotten a lot of pressure from federal EPA. In one Louisiana Court decision, 14 air permits were denied for a large chemical complex on EJ and CAA grounds.
The EPA issued a 56-page letter suggesting that the Louisiana DEQ is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in their permitting process. The letter recommends including a cumulative impact assessment in their permits. New Jersey requires EJ considerations for permit applications by state law. EPA is investigating Texas for permitting rules for batch concrete plants. One of the key concerns is that many of the requirements are somewhat vague (i.e. conduct an assessment). NGOs are starting to include EJ considerations in their complaints whether a particular facility is near an EJ community or not. Thus, EJ is everywhere. Public engagement is encouraged. Being well prepared well in advance is the best defense. Community involvement is a must. Know and understand your state environment relative to permitting, etc.
Rich Hamel, All4