On April 30, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement, Lawrence Starfield, issued a memorandum outlining agency enforcement plans in communities with environmental justice concerns. Given the Biden administration’s focus on environmental justice both during the campaign and since the inauguration, this memorandum is not a surprise. The memorandum follows on Administrator Michael Regan’s message to EPA employees regarding the agency’s commitment to environmental justice, which was discussed on this blog on April 13.

The memorandum outlines four program goals to advance environmental justice:

  1. EPA plans to “increase the number of facility inspections in overburdened communities.” The agency is looking into what types of programmatic inspections would most benefit these communities and will set new inspections goals once this review is complete.
  2. EPA will “strengthen enforcement in overburdened communities by resolving environmental noncompliance through remedies with tangible benefits to the community.” The remedies will focus on preventing further pollution, mitigating past impacts, “seek[ing] penalties for violations that impact overburdened communities,” seeking “early and innovative relief,” incorporating supplemental environmental projects, and providing victim assistance.
  3. The agency plans to “increase engagement with communities about enforcement cases that most directly impact them.”
  4. While EPA plans to work with states and municipalities to effect these goals, it will step in where such co-regulators are “not taking timely or appropriate action.” This in contrast to the more deferential posture taken by the Trump administration to state and local enforcement.

Regulated entities should take heed, as the April 30 message specifically addresses how the administration’s push for environmental justice may shape the agency’s enforcement priorities.