Energy & Environment

EPA launches civil rights office to tackle environmental inequity

Associated Press/Hannah Schoenbaum
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announces a new federal office of environmental justice at a ceremony in Warrenton, N.C., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching a new office focused on civil rights in an effort to take on environmental challenges in historically underserved communities.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights on Saturday in Warren County, North Carolina.

Warren County is the location of 1982 protests against a landfill that were seen as the spark behind the environmental justice movement, which aims to tackle racial disparities in environmental issues. 

Studies have shown that people of color face a disproportionate amount of pollution compared to their white counterparts. 

In his speech, Regan described the office as “elevating” environmental justice and civil rights issues and said it would put the issues on “equal structural footing” with those tackled by the agency’s air and water offices.

“If we’re going to change how the system works, we have to change the structure of the system,” he said.

As part of the new office, 200 staffers will work toward solving environmental issues in underserved communities. These employees will work with other agency offices to incorporate environmental equity concerns into their programs and make sure funding recipients comply with civil rights laws. 

The office was created by merging three existing EPA programs: the Office of Environmental Justice, External Civil Rights Compliance Office and Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center. 

A similar effort took place earlier in the year inside a different Biden administration department: In May, the Justice Department announced the creation of its own environmental justice office.

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