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Justice Department Issues First-Ever Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy Report

Robertson  Daniel   

By: Daniel L. Robertson

 

On October 13, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) released its Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy Report (Report). The Report outlines what OEJ considers to be its environmental justice successes over the past year since OEJ’s creation, as well as its enforcement strategy moving forward. Regarding successes, the Report highlights the Civil Rights Division’s first ever Title VI environmental justice resolution agreement in Lowndes County, Alabama (read our summary of that agreement here). The Environmental and Natural Resources Division also negotiated interim orders to stabilize drinking water and wastewater systems in Jackson, Mississippi.

Moving forward, OEJ outlines four main principles in its Report:

(1) Prioritizing cases that will reduce public health and environmental harms to overburdened communities. This includes OEJ working with Department of Justice (DOJ) components to help federal investigative agencies evaluate adverse effects on environmental justice communities during their investigations. OEJ also developed a guidance document for DOJ attorneys to develop outreach plans for cases affecting overburdened communities.

(2) Making strategic use of all available legal tools to address environmental justice concerns. Tools highlighted by OEJ include enforcement actions under environmental protection, civil rights, worker safety, and consumer protection laws; the False Claims Act; and appropriate settlement tools such as Supplemental Environmental Projects in the pursuit of timely and effective remedies.

(3) Ensuring meaningful engagement with impacted communities. This includes increased outreach and listening sessions, of which OEJ highlights undertaking over 27 public engagements. OEJ also highlights its development of case-specific community outreach plans in prior matters, and efforts to coordinate engagement across DOJ’s offices as well as other federal agencies.

(4) Promoting transparency regarding environmental justice enforcement efforts and their results. This includes the development of performance standards including pulling performance metrics from DOJ’s Strategic Plan. Performance metrics include the percentage of environmental enforcement matters in or substantially affecting overburdened and underserved communities that are favorably resolved; the percentage of participants in OEJ-facilitated environmental justice events who indicate an increased awareness of DOJ’s efforts to advance environmental justice; and the percentage of trainees who indicate an increased awareness and capacity to identify and address environmental justice concerns.

The Report highlights other actions taken by OEJ over the past year, including appointing an Environmental Justice Coordinator in each of its 94 United States Attorney’s offices and increasing environmental justice training. OEJ further highlights provisions in the report for partnering with other federal enforcement agencies and strengthening coordination with Tribes on environmental justice issues.

Federal agencies continue to provide transparent guidance on their environmental justice strategies. Companies that fall under the purview of a particular agency should consider keeping apprised of these strategies as part of their environmental compliance initiatives. We will continue tracking environmental justice developments on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer.