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The Department of Justice announced the creation of a new Office of Environmental Justice that will serve as a “central hub” for the department’s efforts to advance its “comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy.”
The new office within the Department of Justice was announced on Thursday by Attorney General Merrick Garland and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan along with stating a “series of actions” that will be taken to “secure environmental justice for all Americans.”
One of the objectives of the newly formed Office of Environmental Justice is to work with the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal investigative agencies to “develop or enhance investigatory agencies’ protocols for assessing the environmental justice impacts during investigations.”
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As part of the series of actions announced on Thursday, each U.S. Attorney’s Office is being tasked to designate an environmental justice coordinator within their office, who will then identify “areas of environmental justice concern” in areas within their district. The environmental justice coordinator will also be tasked with creating and publicizing a procedure for individuals to report environmental justice concerns.
U.S. Attorneys and other Department of Justice components are also being encouraged as part of the plan to create “environmental enforcement task forces” that can be used as a tool to pursue environmental justice enforcement matters, according to the series of actions announced.
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Garland said that the new Office of Environmental Justice will “prioritize the cases that will have the greatest impact on the communities most overburdened by environmental harm.”
“Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said. “For far too long, these communities have faced barriers to accessing the justice they deserve. The Office of Environmental Justice will serve as the central hub for our efforts to advance our comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy. We will prioritize the cases that will have the greatest impact on the communities most overburdened by environmental harm.”
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The Department of Justice also announced an Interim Final Rule that will resume the usage of supplemental environmental projects that can be used in cases where communities are impacted by violations of federal environmental laws, which will “allow the government to more fully compensate victims, remedy harm, and punish and deter future violations.”