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Underserved Communities to See More EPA Enforcement on Pollution

Jan. 26, 2022, 11:00 AM

The EPA will make more aggressive use of unannounced inspections, part of a broader basket of new policies and community efforts designed to address long-standing inequities in marginalized communities beset by pollution, Administrator Michael Regan said.

The inspection pledge, made on the heels of Regan’s tour of environmental justice challenges around the nation, calls for surprise inspections at facilities “suspected” of failing to comply pollution and other environmental requirements to better protect public health.

Regan said his “Journey to Justice” tour, launched in the fall, revealed too many residents suffering “far too long,” with some communities impacted for decades. Local, state, and federal agencies “have to do better,” he said in comments released Wednesday.

He said the EPA plans to:

  • Expand its air monitoring capacity using assets such as the ASPECT plane, a single-engine turboprop equipped with a suite of sensors and software;
  • Hire additional air pollution inspectors to enhance enforcement;
  • Increase monitoring and oversight of polluting facilities to better hold companies more accountable for actions in communities already overburdened with pollution; and
  • Pressure state and local elected officials to move urgently to protect those marginalized communities.

Regan was joined in unveiling the efforts by NAACP President Derrick Johnson; environmental activist Robert Taylor, a resident of St. John Parish, La. and founder Concerned Citizens of St. John’s; and the Rev. James Caldwell, a Houston resident and founder of the Coalition of Community Organizations.

Caldwell applauded Regan for “not just talking about” environmental inequities “but showing up” in impacted communities.

Previous administrations have pledged action but “we haven’t had the action attached to it” compared to what EPA is unveiling now, Caldwell said.

Video: The Biden Administration has pledged to make environmental justice a priority. Here’s a look at the limited legal options impacted communities have to combat negative environmental impacts.

Tackling Pollution

Regan said he signed a proposed notice Tuesday that may open the door to further regulatory action to better protect communities from ethylene oxide. The notice essentially backs the use of EPA’s own peer-reviewed assessment on the pollutant, which concludes that ethylene oxide is significantly more toxic than previously understood, EPA said.

The EPA’s proposal responds to petitions calling on the agency to reconsider a 2020 rule, which revised emissions standards for chemical plants in plants categorized as Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing, Regan said. The proposal, when published, will open a 30-day comment period.

The EPA will use “all available tools” to hold polluters accountable for noncompliance, according to an agency statement.

Regan’s announcement adds to several Biden administration efforts to benefit overburdened communities, from securing more money to improve drinking water quality and cleaning up Superfund sites to building a government-wide screening tool to better highlight environmental justice communities.

But environmental justice advocates say much of the administration’s agenda remains a work in progress. Advocates have pressed President Joe Biden to show progress for his Justice40 effort, which aims to direct 40% of benefits from clean energy, climate, and other funding to communities suffering disproportionately from decades of air, water, and chemical pollution.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at