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A Commitment to Environmental Justice

August 8, 2011
All Americans deserve to be protected from environmental health hazards. That is why last week, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced an agreement and signed a “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU). As part of this agreement, federal agencies will develop environmental justice strategies and provide the public with annual progress reports on their efforts. These efforts will help protect the health of those living in communities overburdened by pollution so they can thrive. Attorney General Holder highlighted the role this partnership will play in fighting for environmental justice stating:
“Today's memorandum will reinforce the federal government’s commitment to the guiding principles of environmental justice - that the wealth, poverty, or race of any people should not determine the quality and health of the environment in which they live their lives. These are important steps to ensure that environmental justice is an integral part of our work.”
Environmental justice is a major priority of the Department of Justice and the EPA. Its goal is to provide all Americans – regardless of their race, ethnicity or income status – full protection under the nation’s environmental, civil rights, and health laws and to make sure that certain communities are not unfairly burdened with pollution, contaminated storm water, or toxic chemicals. Those who live in these environments face disproportionate health problems and greater obstacles to economic growth when their communities cannot attract businesses and new jobs. The signing of the EJ MOU is the latest in a series of steps taken to elevate the environmental justice conversation and address the inequities that may be present in some communities. Last September, the reconvened Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) met for the first time in more than a decade. In December, at the White House Environmental Justice Forum, Cabinet Secretaries and other senior Administration officials met with more than 100 environmental justice leaders from across the country to engage advocates on issues that are affecting their communities, including reducing air pollution, addressing health disparities, and capitalizing on emerging clean energy job opportunities. The EJ MOU reflects the dialogue, concerns and commitments made at the forum and other public events. Executive Order 12898 “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” named federal agencies responsible for making environmental justice part of their mission and working with the other agencies on environmental justice issues as members of the EJIWG. This agreement furthers these responsibilities by broadening the reach of the working group to include participant agencies not originally named in the Executive Order. The agreement also provides for areas of focus for federal agencies to consider as they prepare their environmental justice strategies and annual progress reports, including the impacts of climate change and commercial transportation and the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Finally, it emphasizes the need for public input into agencies’ environmental justice work.   The following agencies signed the EJ MOU: Environmental Protection Agency; White House Council on Environmental Quality; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Defense; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Interior; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Veterans Affairs; General Services Administration; and Small Business Administration. More information about The Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is available from the EPA.

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