U.S. EPA Establishes New Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights

On September 24, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the establishment of a new national program office, the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, which will span all 10 EPA regions and be supported by more than 200 staff. The new office will be led by a U.S. Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator, who will be announced at a later date. According to the EPA, the new office will address environmental justice matters by providing grants and technical assistance, enforcing federal civil rights laws, developing and implementing environmental laws, regulations, and policies, and providing support in alternative dispute resolution.

The new office will be responsible for overseeing US$3 billion in climate and justice block grants, as well as overseeing various other funding programs concerning environmental justice that were part of the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and regular appropriations associated with the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative. The new office is the result of merging three EPA programs: the Office of Environmental Justice, the External Civil Rights Compliance Office, and the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center.

This announcement follows the recent establishment of an Office of Environmental Justice by the U.S. Department of Justice on May 5, 2022, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on May 31, 2022. The new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights is an important step in the Biden Administration’s goal of addressing and prioritizing environmental justice. As we have discussed previously here, following the publication of two executive orders in January 2021 — Executive Orders 13990 and 14008 —the Administration has implemented a series of measures designed to advance environmental justice and civil rights. These steps include the Administration’s launch of environmental justice mapping and screening tools, such as the EPA’s EJSCREEN 2.0, the White House’s Climate and Economic Justice Tool, and DHHS’ Environmental Justice Index, new Justice40 programs established across the federal government, including the U.S. Department of the Interior, the EPA, and the U.S. Department of Energy.