Bloomberg Law
Feb. 2, 2022, 11:00 AM

Cross-Cutting Teams Will Speed EPA Work, New York-Area Boss Says

Stephen Lee
Stephen Lee

The new head of the EPA’s dense New York-New Jersey region says she’s knitting together different departments to work jointly—an approach aimed at speeding up work while bolstering environmental justice.

Staffers at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 have started organizing into new work groups to find cross-cutting issues on which they can team up, such as air emissions that overlap with water discharges in certain geographic areas, Regional Administrator Lisa Garcia told Bloomberg Law.

Those steps are especially important when it comes to addressing environmental justice—which Garcia pegged as her top priority—because so many low-income communities of color are plagued by multiple environmental problems layered on top of each other. Because many parts of Region 2 is urbanized, “facilities tend to cluster,” Garcia said.

The approach will also help Region 2 employees more quickly review grant applications and get funding out the door, Garcia said.

“We already have staff that are trying to almost do it as a coordinated effort, so that we can maximize that capacity,” she said. “So if it’s money for water and for Superfund and brownfields, can we still have one meeting to talk about grants and how to utilize the money? So we don’t have a water person and then an air person and a Superfund person, but how do we have this conversation together?”

Garcia was picked in November to lead Region 2, which spans New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight tribal nations.

New Staff

She is expecting help from new recruits. More than 50 new staffers will soon come on board to augment the office’s current corps of 750, according to Stephen McBay, a Region 2 spokesman. The funding for the new hires was provided in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November.

Lisa Garcia
Photo courtesy EPA

“There has been a real effort of saying, ‘Let’s make sure that we have the experts in that field, but also the supporting experts,’” Garcia said.

Garcia is a former EPA associate administrator during the Obama administration who spearheaded the agency’s first strategic plan to incorporate environmental justice into all of the agency’s work. She is also former vice president for litigation at Earthjustice and director of environmental justice and Indian affairs at the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation.

She previously served as an assistant attorney general in the Environmental Protection Bureau of the New York state attorney general’s office, and as director of environmental justice and Indian affairs advocate for environmental justice and equity at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Garcia’s appointment makes sense because she already has relationships with stakeholders from her past roles in the EPA, state government, and the advocacy community, said Eric Goldstein, New York City’s environment director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“You don’t want someone who’s going to take the first 12 months getting familiar with the lay of the land,” Goldstein said. “Lisa can skip those steps because she’s covered the terrain.”

Trump Reorg ‘Not So Bad’

Garcia said staff have become used to the Trump administration’s reorganization of the EPA’s regional offices, in spite of some initial resistance.

The 2019 plan restructured each of the EPA’s 10 regional offices so they resembled the organizational map of the agency’s headquarters. Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the plan would improve coordination between headquarters and the field offices, but some critics claimed it wasn’t workable because each region has unique needs.

“I certainly am talking to some folks who were adamantly against it, realizing, ‘Oh, that’s not so bad, because in the region, we’re still going to do the work together,’” Garcia said.

“We’re still going to focus on New York City with a certain lens, and then we’re going to focus on Rochester with a different lens,” she added.

The Trump-era reorganization suggested a desire by EPA leadership to “have a little more micromanaged control” over the regions’ activities, said Stan Meiburg, former EPA deputy regional administrator in Regions 4 and 6 and now a professor at Wake Forest University.

Superfund a Priority

The infrastructure bill also provided money for construction-ready projects that were previously unfunded at 11 Superfund sites in Region 2, according to McBay.

Among them are the 200-acre Roebling Steel Co. site in Florence, N.J., the Facet Enterprises manufacturing facility in Elmira, N.Y., and the 31-acre Diamond Head Oil Refinery processing facility in Kearny, N.J.

Garcia acknowledged the tension between builders and environmentalists in many parts of Region 2, where development is taking place very close to Superfund sites.

“Sometimes development can happen,” she said. “Maybe you want to reuse the site. But it has to be within the regulations and within that understanding that we want to protect the community.”

Nevertheless, “the EPA has always been clear that, for instance, the Gowanus is a Superfund site for us,” Garcia said, referring to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, which the agency calls one of the nation’s most contaminated bodies of water, but adjacent to extensive redevelopment. “It’s not the Venetian canal.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at