The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) filed comments this week stressing the importance of involving environmental justice communities early in the rulemaking process and considering the cumulative impact of climate change and multiple sources of pollution. CBF’s comments, submitted January 15, address EPA’s draft guidelines for how federal agencies assess environmental justice concerns when writing regulations.
CBF expressed support for EPA’s efforts to update the federal agency guidelines and outlined ways EPA can strengthen the final version. CBF based its comments on its work fighting environmental injustices together with watershed communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harm, lack of green space, and vulnerability to excess heat, intense storms, regular flooding, and other hazards exacerbated by climate change.
To foster early and meaningful engagement with affected communities, CBF recommended extending comment periods, actively advertising public meetings, and providing adequate resources, such as fact sheets in multiple languages and formats, to make it easier for community members to participate in the regulatory process.
CBF cited its work with local partners in Petersburg, Va., opposing a proposed natural gas compressor station as an example of learning directly from residents about their specific concerns and needs.
CBF emphasized the value of addressing the cumulative and local environmental stressors that communities like Portsmouth, Va., face. Portsmouth is a majority Black, low-income community exposed to extreme concentrations of toxic waste and hazardous air pollutants from nine Superfund sites within a 15-mile radius.
CBF applauded EPA for pushing federal agencies to analyze the uneven distribution of climate change impacts. A 2019 federal government study found that the hottest neighborhoods in Richmond, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., were the same neighborhoods once redlined under the racially discriminatory home-lending practices of the mid-20th century.
Another EPA proposal CBF supported calls for agencies to assess the varied effects of a regulation on different populations within an affected community, rather than only looking at the average effects. Dirty air does the most damage to people’s health in areas, such as the District of Columbia’s Anacostia neighborhood, located closest to roads, industrial facilities, and other sources of harmful emissions, according to a recent University of Maryland study.
CBF encouraged EPA to lean on CBF and other partners to connect with communities without access to federal decision-makers. CBF also urged EPA to include a framework for holding the federal government accountable for how its regulatory decisions affect environmental justice communities.
CBF Environmental Justice Staff Attorney Taylor Lilley issued the following statement:
“It is long past time for federal agencies to meaningfully engage marginalized communities when making decisions that affect them. Communities like Portsmouth, Va., and Washington, D.C.’s, Anacostia neighborhood have waited too long for agencies to consider the cumulative effect of multiple environmental and climate stressors they disproportionately bear.
“CBF supports EPA’s efforts to improve how the federal government assesses the impact of regulations on environmental justice communities. It is essential that these guidelines reduce the barriers to participation communities face and ensure the government thoroughly analyzes the varied and cumulative effects of regulations on overburdened communities.
“Clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment are rights we share, regardless of our ethnicity, identity, economic status and race. CBF looks forward to continuing to work with the Biden administration to advance equity, inclusion, and justice in the Bay watershed.”