In recent years, the disproportionate burden minorities communities face in regards to environmental issues has become more widely known with news stories like the recent water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. In response to these issues, President Biden has directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to focus on environmental justice (EJ). The most recent step forward in this is the creation of the EPA’s new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights in September of 2022.
But what is environmental justice exactly? And what does the EPA’s focus on EJ mean for your environmental, health, and safety (EHS) compliance?
What is Environmental Justice?
According to the EPA, environmental justice “is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
The idea is that low-income and minority communities have been disproportionately burdened with environmental hazards and issues. EJ aims to address that, relieving these communities of those risks so that “all communities and persons across the nation live in a safe and healthy environment.”
How Will Environmental Justice Impact My Company?
The specifics of how the EPA’s focus on environmental justice will impact companies still remains to be seen. Initial communication indicates that the focus on EJ will certainly have some impact on environmental compliance for companies and facilities.
EJ funds will be focused on a variety of efforts, including cleaning up polluted areas, updating infrastructure, assisting in environmental conflict resolution, and enforcing federal civil rights laws.
In the EPA’s Draft Strategic plan for 2022-2026, it also proposed a plan to have 55% of annual inspections occur at facilities that affect communities at-risk for environmental injustices by September 2026. This means that companies in certain areas and communities may be more prone to regular environmental inspections and will need to be prepared.
The focus on EJ may also impact permit authorization in certain areas. For example, in communities that already have a disproportionate amount of industrial sites, the EPA may limit the authorization of additional industrial sites.
While these plans are not finalized, they show that we can count on there being a focus on enforcement in at-risk communities.
How Can I Be Prepared for Environmental Justice Impacts?
One of the biggest actions you can take at your facility is to prepare for environmental agency inspections, especially if your facility is located in or affects communities at risk for EJ issues.
Performing regular internal audits is crucial to maintaining compliance and always being prepared for potential inspections from the EPA and/or state regulatory agencies. While they may sound burdensome, internal audits can uncover potential issues before they become problematic, allowing you to correct issues before they are discovered by an agency inspector.
Get EHS Support From Tetra Tech
Whether you need to prepare for potential inspections, perform internal audits, or need other EHS services, Tetra Tech can help you reach your compliance goals. Our team has years of experience helping facilities meet a variety of EHS regulations. Contact us at [email protected] to learn how we can help you successfully maintain your EHS compliance.