EPA Publishes Principles to Address Environmental Justice in Air Permitting

On December 22, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA or the Agency) Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) published a memorandum, which outlines “an interim operating framework” to OAR division directors in all EPA regions “for identifying, analyzing, and addressing environmental justice concerns in Clean Air Act (CAA) permitting” (Guidance).

The Guidance encourages air permitting staff to immediately incorporate the following eight principles in federal CAA permit decisions. Thus, sources with pending applications or federal air permits due for renewal should be aware of these principles. The Agency does note, however, that these principles “do not change or substitute for any requirement under the CAA or its implementing regulations, any EPA-approved CAA permitting program, or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, nor are they a regulation themselves.”

  1. Identify communities with potential environmental justice concerns using EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool, also known as EJScreen, or other geographic information system and mapping tools and data.
  2. Engage early in the permitting process to promote meaningful participation and fair treatment.
  3. Enhance public involvement throughout the permitting process, including but not limited to providing training on effective comments on permits; notice through multiple communication methods (e.g., social media, door-to-door engagement); and translation and interpretive services where appropriate.
  4. Conduct a “fit for purpose” environmental justice analysis to further evaluate adverse and disproportionate impacts to environmental justice communities and identify ways to prevent or mitigate such impacts and foster enhanced community engagement in permitting decisions.
  5. Minimize and mitigate disproportionately high and adverse effects associated with the permit action to promote fair treatment, including the development of permit terms and conditions to address identified air quality impacts.
  6. Provide federal support throughout the air permitting process, including collaborating with the permitting authority to provide technical support, guidance, and recommendations to address effects on the communities with environmental justice concerns, including cumulative effects.
  7. Enhance transparency throughout the air permitting process, including availability of the administrative record and documentation of the affected community’s concerns.
  8. Build capacity to enhance the consideration of environmental justice in the air permitting process.

The Agency notes that the goals of applying these principles are to “improve and consistently practice meaningful stakeholder involvement and fair treatment at all stages of the permitting process, promote issuance of air permits containing terms that are appropriately protective of public health and the environment consistent with applicable environmental laws, and improve transparency in the permitting process.”