New Enforcement Strategy Advances President Biden’s Environmental Justice Agenda
Justice Department, EPA Launch Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy and Restore Option for Supplemental Environmental Projects to Help Communities
WASHINGTON (May 5, 2022) – Today, Administrator Michael S. Regan joined Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to announce the Department of Justice’s comprehensive enforcement strategy to advance environmental justice. As directed by President Biden’s executive order, the Justice Department and EPA developed a strategy that positions the Biden-Harris Administration to leverage all available legal tools to secure protections for communities that have been overburdened by pollution and environmental injustices. This includes restoring Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), which EPA’s enforcement program has used to provide environmental and/or public health benefits to communities harmed by environmental violations.
Today’s announcement helps to deliver on two goals in President Biden’s Executive Order Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad: a comprehensive Justice Department “environmental justice enforcement strategy” to provide timely remedies for systemic environmental violations, and stronger enforcement by EPA of “environmental violations with disproportionate impact on underserved communities.”
“EPA and DOJ’s partnership to protect overburdened and underserved communities across America has never been stronger,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. 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.”
In the development of this strategy, EPA and the Justice Department engaged in listening sessions to hear directly from impacted communities and other stakeholders. This feedback was critical in shaping today’s EJ announcements.
Since Administrator Regan assumed office in March of 2021, EPA has been integral to the Administration’s environmental justice commitment, through a series of enforcement actions, funding decisions, grants, and other policies that have delivered protections for people disproportionately impacted by pollution. For example, EPA and the Justice Department recently reached a settlement with Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP to reduce harmful air pollution at three petrochemical manufacturing facilities located in Cedar Bayou, Port Arthur, and Sweeney, Texas. In addition, Administrator Regan conducted a “Journey to Justice” tour in November where he visited with families in the American South that have long been marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. In January, the Administrator announced a series of actions responding directly to the concerns he heard on his tour.
A Supplemental Environmental Project is an enforcement tool that EPA used for more than 30 years until the previous administration brought it to a halt. SEPs are local projects that defendants can agree to undertake as part of an enforcement case settlement to help rectify environmental violations. SEPs help to fulfill the goals of the underlying statutes being enforced and can provide important environmental and public health benefits to communities that have been harmed by environmental violations.
In the past, SEPs in EPA settlements have been used to support projects that bring significant benefits to communities, including (i) projects to abate lead paint hazards in housing or provide blood lead level analyzers to community health clinics; (ii) installation of enhanced air filtration systems at schools in heavily industrialized areas; (iii) projects to enhance the emergency response capabilities of local fire departments or hazardous emergency response teams, and (iv) installation and operation of a fence line monitoring system.
SEPs are considered in accordance with EPA’s SEP Policy, which ensures there is a sufficient connection to the violation. The SEP Policy provides for consideration of a defendant’s willingness to implement a SEP as part of the Agency’s decision about whether, and on what terms, to settle an enforcement matter, just as EPA has discretion to consider, as appropriate, a defendant’s good faith and cooperation when deciding on a penalty and other terms of a settlement.