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GASP Lauds Launch of New National Office Dedicated to Advancing Environmental Justice & Civil Rights

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

We have some good news on the environmental justice front to share with you today: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced recently that it is establishing a new national office charged with advancing both environmental justice and civil rights.

Here’s what the associated press release said:

The creation of the new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights delivers on President Biden’s commitment to (elevating) these critical issues to the highest levels of the government and solidifies the agency’s commitment to delivering justice and equity for all. The new office will dedicate more than 200 EPA staff in EPA headquarters and across 10 regions toward solving environmental challenges in communities that have been underserved for far too long.

These staff will engage with communities with environmental justice concerns to understand their needs, as well as Tribal, state, and local partners; manage and disburse historic levels of grants and technical assistance; work with other EPA offices to incorporate environmental justice into the agency’s programs, policies, and processes, as allowed by law; and ensure EPA funding recipients comply with applicable civil rights laws.

The office will be led by a U.S. Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator, to be announced at a later date.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said the new office stems from the Biden Administration's commitment to environmental justice and civil rights initiatives, saying:

“We are embedding environmental justice and civil rights into the DNA of EPA and ensuring that people who’ve struggled to have their concerns addressed see action to solve the problems they’ve been facing for generations.”

How so? According to the release, the new office will oversee the implementation and delivery of a $3 billion climate and environmental justice block grant program created by the Inflation Reduction Act, a critical component of the law’s historic $60 billion investment in environmental justice.

The office also will ensure EPA’s implementation of other funding programs provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and regular appropriations meet or exceed the President’s Justice40 Initiative.

The new office is the latest significant action under President Biden’s aggressive approach to embed environmental justice, civil rights, and equity across the government and follows the launch of several initiatives designed to address the impacts faced by those living in underserved communities overburdened by pollution.

By way of background: The EPA created the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights Office by merging three existing programs at the agency: the Office of Environmental Justice, External Civil Rights Compliance Office, and Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center.

The new office will:

  • Improve and enhance the agency’s ability to infuse equity, civil rights, and environmental justice principles and priorities into all EPA practices, policies, and programs.

  • Support the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.

  • Engage communities with environmental justice concerns and increase support for community-led action through grants and technical assistance.

  • Enforce federal civil rights laws that, together, prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin (including on the basis of limited-English proficiency); sex; disability; or age by applicants for and recipients of federal financial assistance from EPA.

  • Provide services and expertise in alternative dispute resolution, environmental conflict resolution, consensus-building, and collaborative problem-solving.

“The creation of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights is welcome news,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “We hope the office will be able to help deliver meaningful environmental improvements to the towns that need it most - ones like Clairton, Braddock, and other local frontline communities.”

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