Monday, February 27, 2012

Obama Administration Publishes Environmental Justice Strategies

Designed To Ensure All Communities Are Protected From Environmental Harm

Today, federal agencies, led by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), released environmental justice strategies, implementation plans and progress reports, outlining steps agencies will take to protect communities facing greater health and environmental risks. These strategies represent a significant step forward in the Administration’s commitment to integrating environmental justice into federal decision-making and programs in areas such as transportation, labor, health services, housing and others.

The Administration believes that all Americans should be able to live in healthy communities, share in the benefits of federal programs and initiatives, and have a voice in the federal decision-making process. Yet too often that is not the case, particularly for low-income, minority and tribal populations. To make progress toward addressing these inequities, federal agencies have reviewed their portfolios to assess how their programs, policies, and activities may have disproportionately adverse health and environmental effects. Through this review, they have identified overarching strategies, as well as specific programs and initiatives, to reduce environmental or health hazards, ensure access to beneficial programs, and increase community participation in agency decision-making. For example:

• The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Transit Administration is finalizing an environmental justice circular to help grantees determine whether there are any minority or low-income populations that may be adversely affected by a transit project or decision. DOT’s Federal Highway Administration is working with the National Highway Institute to revamp their course on environmental justice and Title VI.

• The U.S. Department of Labor is translating educational materials and hazard alerts into Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese to ensure that minority workers have access to information they need to avoid environmental hazards on the job.

• The U.S. Department of Energy’s Pueblo Project in Los Alamos, N.M., provides four tribal governments the opportunity to run pollution monitoring programs and provide technical input on National Nuclear Security Administration decisions.

• The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is helping to provide green jobs and workforce development opportunities for veterans in minority and low-income communities.

• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with communities to use Health Impact Assessments, to help proactively address the potential impacts a policy or project might have on minority and low income populations. For example, in Baltimore, MD, work is under way to evaluate the human health impact of a vacant property redevelopment program.

The release of these strategies and implementation progress reports is a part of a broad effort the Administration has undertaken to reinvigorate the federal commitment to environmental justice. After more than a decade of inaction, the Administration reconvened the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group and engaged more than 100 environmental justice leaders at a White House Forum on Environmental Justice. Throughout 2011, federal agencies participated in more than 15 listening sessions across the country to learn from stakeholders how the federal government can better partner with overburdened communities to reduce environmental and health burdens. Then, in August 2011, 16 federal agencies committed to finalizing environmental justice strategies and releasing annual implementation progress reports.

Federal agencies releasing new environmental justice strategies by February 2012 include: the Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Department of Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs and General Services Administration. The EPA and the Department of Energy published new strategies in 2011 and 2008, respectively, and released annual implementation plans last year. They both continue to take public comment on their strategies and will update each strategy, as appropriate. The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its annual implementation progress report. The Department of Defense released its strategy in 1995 and this year will be releasing an annual implementation progress report. The Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Commerce have taken public comment on their draft strategies and are working to finalize their strategies and implementation reports.

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