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EPA’s acting chief of enforcement sent a memo to staff last week (that The Hill obtained) calling for them to “[s]trengthen enforcement in overburdened communities by resolving environmental noncompliance through remedies with tangible benefits for the community” with a particular emphasis on “cornerstone environmental statutes.” This guidance appears to be implementing Administrator Michael Regan’s directive from earlier in April to strengthen enforcement and help advance the protection of communities, using existing resources to advance environmental justice (EJ) goals. EPA staff is also asked to “think creatively” about developing settlement agreements related to pollution-related noncompliance — this is a tactic used in lieu of monetary penalties that the Trump administration had ended but that the Justice Department recently revived.
As The Hill explains, the Biden administration has said that addressing the environmental issues that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities is a major priority, and they are putting real money behind their talk — The White House included $1.4 billion for EJ in its budget request for fiscal 2022. The EPA memo specifically calls on staff to use offsite compliance monitoring tools to:
Prevent further pollution due to noncompliance, mitigate past impacts from pollution, and seek penalties for violations that impact overburdened communities;
Seek early and innovative relief, e.g., fence-line monitoring and transparency tools;
Incorporate Supplement Environmental Projects (SEPs) in settlements, where appropriate; and
Assist and seek to obtain restitution for victims of environmental crimes.
But, but, but Inspections Hard During Pandemic
One limitation, however, on the ability to resume enforcement is the EPA’s ability to perform inspections that would identify actual violations during the “continuing COVID-19 health crisis.” The pandemic “constrains” the ability of the agency inspectors to safely visit facilities and the agency says that the health of their employees is a top priority. But the memo states that when “an inspection can be safely performed and failure to inspect a facility could threaten to impact the community’s health (e.g., where health effects are reported in an overburdened community), then an inspection to assess the threat would be deemed mission-critical and appropriate under Agency guidance.”
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer This week, the medical journal Lancet published their annual report on health in relation to climate change, subtitling it: “code red for a healthy future.” The report delves beyond the obvious effects of wildfires, hurricanes, and extreme weather events — looking at food security; livelihoods; human physical and mental […]
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer The EPA announced Monday that it will move toward regulating perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — manmade “forever chemicals” — that don’t naturally break down and can contaminate both air and water. These chemicals, found in various household products, from dental floss to nonstick pans, can also be harmful […]
The editors of over 230 medical journals said in a statement on Monday that climate change is a health issue and that its effects could become “catastrophic” if world leaders don’t do more to address it. The health impacts of climate change include wildfire smoke–which has been linked to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases–and pollutants […]
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