News & Insights

Justice Department Begins Comprehensive Environmental Justice Strategy

On May 5, 2022, Attorney General Merrick Garland and EPA Administrator Michael Regan released a memorandum entitled: “Actions to Advance Environmental Justice.” The memorandum from the Office of the Attorney General announces three actions to “secure environmental justice for all Americans.”

First, the Justice Department issued a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy to guide the work of the Justice Department’s employees. The strategy outlines guiding principles, along with specific actions. The Department will prioritize cases that will reduce public health and environmental harms to overburdened  and underserved communities. In this regard, the Department will create an Environmental Justice Enforcement Steering Committee, issue protocols for assessing environmental justice impacts during investigations, and create local and regional environmental enforcement task forces consisting of federal, as well as local law enforcement authorities.

The Department will make strategic use of legal tools to address environmental justice concerns, including injunctive remedies, Title VI, civil rights, and Civil Division enforcement. The memorandum also calls for the promotion of meaningful engagement with communities impacted by environmental injustice and transparency in environmental justice enforcement efforts.

Second, the Justice Department created a new Office of Environmental Justice within the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. The office will support implementation and enforcement of the new environmental justice strategy.

Finally, the Justice Department issued by separate memorandum new guidelines for settlement agreements involving payments to non-governmental persons or entities that are not parties to the underlying litigation. This policy was previously suspended in 2017. The Department’s memorandum outlines guidelines and limitations for the use of supplemental environmental projects in settlements to provide redress to non-party communities directly affected by violations of federal environmental laws.