- The EPA has committed itself to protecting communities of color from disproportionate exposure to harm from air, water and other environmental pollutants in its EJ 2020 Action Agenda, which was announced last week.
- EJ 2020 is the EPA's second national initiative since a Bill Clinton executive order spurred the agency to target civil rights in enforcement. It will allow for the EPA to consider environmental injustice throughout its enforcement and decision-making process in the form of permitting, writing regulations, or actually going after violators, reports The Hill.
- Administrator Gina McCarthy said that in implementing EJ 2020 the "agency has a lot to prove," as it takes action to reverse recent criticism from groups like U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that the agency had failed for decades to uphold its civil rights obligation to protect communities of color from the averse health and financial consequences of pollution.
After facing public scrutiny over accusations that it had failed to uphold the rights of communities of color, the EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, says that the agency will use it's newly launched EJ 2020 Action Agenda to focus on integrating environmental justice into the EPA's overall practice and will commit to its civil rights mandate through this four-year plan.
McCarthy told Grist that upping the EPA's enforcement authority over issues of environmental injustice was not an easy task, but she also acknowledged that there is a history to back up criticism of the EPA's efforts.
“That may sound like a small task, but it frankly is not,” said McCarthy. “It required us to provide guidance, documents that we have completed, on how a permit should reflect our interest in environmental justice. We did the same thing for our rulemaking.”
The EPA's 2014 EJ plan was developed to target communities of color facing the effects of pollution, but the agency has consistently been criticized over contaminated drinking water.
In addition to high-profile lead issues in Flint, Michigan, the USCCR's chairman, Martin Castro, for instance said in a video interview with Utility Dive that the EPA had tremendously "dropped the ball...when it was determining how to issue the coal ash rule."
McCarthy said that the EPA would step up its efforts at protecting vulnerable communities by working with the states to ensure that civil rights violators are held accountable. The agency has already taken steps to supply regulators with key information on environmental and demographic information in chosen areas through its EJSCREEN tool, which helps indicate which populations might be exposed to toxins from industry pollution.
In terms of addressing its backlog of civil rights complaints, from which the agency has never found a violation of the 1964 Civil rights Act, McCarthy says the agency has a separate draft plan to handle those cases.