Energy & Environment

EPA official directs agency to ramp up enforcement in communities hit hard by pollution

Water contamination.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) compliance chief instructed staff to step up enforcement in communities disproportionately affected by pollution.

In a Friday memo obtained by The Hill, acting assistant administrator Lawrence Starfield instructed the EPA’s offices to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes” in such communities.

In the memo, Starfield states that to put this goal into practice, the agency will review what types of inspections are best suited to addressing those threats and the extent to which inspections have already occurred.

Starfield acknowledges the logistical issues of resuming widespread in-person inspections in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and writes that the agency will designate inspections as mission-critical in cases where failure to act could be a threat to public health.

“While our goal in all cases is to take prompt action to address pollution threats and impacts, we recognize it can take some time to resolve cases that include remedies that make a tangible difference for a community,” the memo states. “Therefore, I am asking case teams to explore ideas for obtaining early relief for affected communities.  This could include issuing administrative orders in judicial cases to expedite the implementation of pollution controls or the installation of monitoring equipment, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop noncompliance, or taking other interim measures.”

In the memo, Starfield also asks EPA staff to “think creatively” about developing settlement agreements related to pollution-related noncompliance. He notes that the Justice Department is currently reviewing the Trump administration’s rule that curtailed the use of supplement environmental projects (SEPs) in settlements.

“If we are able to resume use of this settlement provision, which is so important to communities harmed by environmental violations, I would ask case teams to actively consider the use of SEPs in settlements with willing parties,” he wrote.

The Biden administration has said it will make environmental justice, or addressing environmental issues that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities, a major priority. The White House included $1.4 billion in funds for such initiatives in its budget request for fiscal 2022.

Tags Environmental justice Environmental Protection Agency

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