EPA’s New Enviro Justice Office Brings Change, Tensions
Bracewell’s Jason Hutt discussed with Law360 the Environmental Protection Agency’s creation of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, which will merge three existing agency programs: Office of Environmental Justice, External Civil Rights Compliance Office and Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center, and how it could impact industry.
While the new office is clearly aimed at improving the EPA’s performance in terms of helping to alleviate the health and environmental burdens faced by communities that are experiencing disproportionate amounts of pollution, Hutt believes there could be benefits to industry and anyone seeking permits from regulators.
“In the past, it’s been hard for the regulated community to respond to EPA’s prioritization of issues because environmental justice is not rooted in any specific environmental statutes,” Hutt said. “And so, there is no set of rules or regulations that you can really look to in order to ensure compliance with the regulators’ expectations. So, I would be optimistic that having a centralized place inside of [the] EPA to provide industry with guidance would be helpful as those considerations continue to evolve.”
Hutt added that as the EPA — and the rest of the federal government — more aggressively pursue environmental justice goals, there could be pushback from some corners.
“If I see a point of conflict, it would be between the EPA and the state regulators,” Hutt said. “Right now, in Region 6, for example, there are civil rights claims against the leadership of a state permitting agency on the basis that they’re failing to process permits that would otherwise impact an environmental justice community. And I think before, there was a more aligned working relationship between the federal and state agencies.”