The White House’s FY 2023 budget announcement allocated $1.4 billion to advancing environmental justice (EJ), greatly enhancing the agency’s ability to award new competitive grants to reduce the health impacts of pollution in communities with EJ concerns. Companies are already experiencing increased community engagement in several locations throughout the United States, and although awareness of EJ has been increased, the focus is different based on region. Permits have been denied for new facilities based on EJ concerns in certain areas.
In the past couple months, states have started to take a much more aggressive stance with respect to polluting facilities in vulnerable communities:
– Last month a Louisiana judge rejected air permits based on the Clean Air Act and EJ for a new plastics manufacturing company.
– The Texas Council of Environmental Quality announced they will now be requiring air, waste, water quality, and water rights permit applicants with projects in areas of EJ concern to develop a public involvement plan.
– Multiple states just received federal grants to expand air quality monitoring networks in potentially affected communities including:
- Arizona: Awarded multiple grants including one focused on monitoring emissions from oil and gas facilities and their impact on human health in neighboring communities.
- California: Grants include ambient air quality monitoring in EJ communities, and ambient air monitoring in communities with potential exposure to metal related businesses, major traffic routes, and select manufacturing facilities.
- Indiana: Awarded a grant to analyze impacts of episodic pollution events, with a goal to attribute pollution to sources in the East Chicago community.
- Louisiana: Three grants were awarded to assess the potential of air pollutants from wood treating facilities.
- Ohio: Grant awarded to monitor air quality pollutants in communities near a steel manufacturer.
- Oklahoma: Grant awarded to monitor air pollution levels near an industrial park.
- Pennsylvania: Awarded multiple grants to monitor air quality in communities near major emission sources and pollutants associated with unconventional oil and gas development and petrochemical-related industries.
The focus on EJ differs by region, but what consistently occurs is an increase in community awareness and engagement. The bottom line is that EJ is another business risk to consider. It will affect the ability for businesses to get permits, particularly if the facility is in an underserved community. It could mean additional costs, more time, and more stringent permit conditions. EHS Support has already had several clients permit applications impacted by EJ efforts.
What can companies do to get ahead of EJ concerns? The first step is to evaluate company risk:
– Screen all sites using federal and state mapping tools, such as EJSCREEN. This is a good place to start or use a state-specific mapping tool.
– Flag locations that are in underserved communities.
– Search your site USEPA’s Enforcement Compliance History Online (or ECHO) or state-specific enforcement search for insight on how your site’s compliance history is reported and could be perceived by the public.
– Review compliance performance at high-risk facilities:
- Work with these sites to do audits and provide support to drive compliance (fines and scrutiny will increase on those facilities not in compliance with permit).
- Review permit renewals that will be do in the next one to three years at facilities in these areas. Build in more time and budget for permit submission renewal and costs – permits in these areas are focused for increasing scrutiny.
- Be aware that capital upgrades and permits will require more time and are at greater risk for not being approved.
Given changing political, regulatory, investor, and public expectations, environmental justice and community engagement have become material to business operations. With an effective plan, companies can turn potential risks into opportunities for positive, proactive engagement.