EPA Prioritizes Environmental Justice in Strategic Planning and Hints at Possible SEPs Policy Change
EPA’s proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2023 and FY 2022-FY 2026 Strategic Plan both reflect the Biden Administration’s ongoing commitment to advancing environmental justice (EJ) initiatives in the coming months.
The draft budget includes a requested $300.8 million for EPA’s EJ programs. That spending would in part fund the creation of a new national office led by a Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator position, as well as EJ grant programs and assistance for local governments looking to address EJ issues.
The Agency’s strategic plan correspondingly calls on EPA to support state and local government EJ efforts and promote community-driven responses to environmental challenges.
The plan likewise sets compliance review and audit targets for EPA to assess state civil rights programs related to the receipt of federal funding “to ensure financial assistance is not being used in a manner that discriminates.”
Interestingly, the strategic plan also instructs EPA to incorporate supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) into settlements “where appropriate and to the extent permitted by law and policy.” SEPs are voluntary projects undertaken by defendants in enforcement actions that provide environmental benefits to local communities and help offset penalties.
While SEPs have long enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, the Trump Administration severely limited their use in an internal Department of Justice (DOJ) regulation. The strategic plan, however, notes that those limitations “are now under review at DOJ,” perhaps signifying that the Biden Administration intends to remove some of the current barriers to the use of SEPs in the coming months.
Many of EPA’s proposed EJ initiatives align with NACWA’s Statement of Principles and Recommended Actions on Environmental Justice. NACWA’s EJ Committee will continue to lead the Association’s efforts to further engage with the Biden Administration on these issues going forward. As a reminder, the EJ Committee will be hosting its first virtual meeting next Thursday, April 7 from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. (Eastern).
Please contact NACWA’s Chief Legal Counsel, Amanda Aspatore, with any questions.