During his 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden pledged to establish an environmental justice division within the Justice Department. On Thursday, the Biden administration announced a wide-ranging enforcement strategy to hold industrial polluters accountable for the damage done to poor and minority communities, according to the Associated Press.
The overall strategy includes the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice within the Justice Department to focus on “fenceline communities” that have been exposed to air and water pollution from chemical plants, refineries, and other industrial sites.
Also, a dormant program eliminated by the Trump administration allowing fines paid by the industry as part of a settlement go to river cleanup, health clinics, or other programs that benefit the environment or public health will be reinstated.
“Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution and climate change,’’ Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference.
“And for far too long, these communities have faced barriers to accessing the justice they deserve,’’ he said.
The new office “will prioritize meaningful and constructive engagement with the communities most affected by environmental crime and injustice,″ Garland said. “Whenever possible, these efforts will respond directly to community needs and concerns.″
Thursday, the White House announced that advocate Jalonne White-Newsome would lead environmental justice efforts at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. White-Newsome is the founder and CEO of Empowering a Green Environment and Economy; a consulting firm focused on climate change, public health, and environmental and racial equity.
In January, Environmental Protection Agency head Michael Regan revealed a plan and other problems afflicting minority communities in three Gulf Coast states. This included Jackson, Mississippi, which has been dealing with an aging water system. Biden requested $1.4 million for the environmental justice office in his budget proposal to support ecological justice investigations and litigation and work with communities across the country, the Justice Department said.