We all have been waiting to see what new course or approach will be taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“USEPA”) in regard to environmental justice. Rather than a major new program or enforcement initiative, the recent declaration from USEPA in this area provides clarity and focus – basically taking the available regulatory frameworks and existing information and rules and restructuring them in a manner to accomplish the initial intended purpose.
USEPA Administrator Michael S. Regan asserts the agency is committed to providing “communities, especially those disproportionately facing burdens of pollution and waste,” with frequent updates (presumably on an annual basis, as opposed to every three to four years via its National Air Toxics Assessment (‘NATA’) as has previously been the practice since 2002) which include more complete information about the air quality impacting the public.
The USEPA recognizes that in its mission to protect human health and the environment, it first must improve its approach on identifying and addressing existing, emerging, and future air toxics issues as well as improving the public’s access to the Air Toxics Data. Tasked with providing focus to meeting these goals, the USEPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (“OAQPS”) published an Air Toxics Strategy outlining the key components and steps it has developed to “improve its internal approach and external connection with other governmental and non-governmental organizations for addressing air toxics.”
The USEPA is tentatively expecting to release updated air toxics data in late 2021 along with its updated version of its Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (“EJSCREEN”), in which that data will be incorporated. In addition to its annual Air Trends Report, the EJSCREEN serves as a publicly accessible tool which can assist communities with the ability to screen and identify potential environmental issues. There will be heightened review and assessment of compliance and data production in geographic areas of concern and based on results, possible enforcement.