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EPA Must Focus on Environmental Justice, Inspector General Says

July 21, 2020, 6:28 PM

Environmental justice has emerged as one of the top management issues the EPA must address, according to the agency’s internal watchdog.

The issue is new to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General’s periodic list of top management challenges facing the agency, underscoring its emergence as a leading national concern.

The OIG called on the agency to strengthen its federal leadership role, continue to build an environmental justice strategic plan, and consider the impact of “all activities on environmental justice communities in actions revoked and taken by the agency as a whole.”

“The EPA needs to enhance its consideration of environmental justice across programs and regions and provide leadership in this area for the federal government,” the report said.

“Across the country, communities of low-income and people of color live adjacent to heavily polluted industries or ‘hot spots’ of chemical pollution. For example, studies show that 70 percent of hazardous waste sites officially listed on the National Priorities List under Superfund are located within one mile of federally assisted housing. These communities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards.”

The EPA’s environmental justice strategy, known as the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, “does not always provide specific goals for its measures,” according to the report.

The agency’s annual progress reports on environmental justice also “do not clearly convey the performance measures indicated in the strategic plan, making it difficult to measure progress over time,” the report said.

Agency Pushes Back

The EPA broadly rejected the report, which includes challenges such as responding to staffing gaps, fending off cyberthreats, and communicating risks to the public.

An agency spokeswoman said the report “includes opinions unsupported by facts or analyses, in contravention of the OIG’s internal processes and controls.”

The inspector general didn’t contact the EPA’s chief operating officer when preparing the report, the spokeswoman said.

She also pointed to the report’s finding that the EPA’s temporary enforcement policy that “curtails several routine regulatory monitoring and enforcement activities during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The temporary enforcement policy “does not curtail any routine monitoring,” the spokeswoman said, calling it “a fact that would have been obvious had the IG performed even a minimal level of due diligence. This is but one example of error in a report riddled with errors.”

The inspector general also predicted an increase in fraudulent exploitation of EPA programs and operations “as fraudsters identify new ways to exploit consumers frightened by the coronavirus pandemic.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com

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