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New national US EPA office to embed environmental justice in agency programs


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New national US EPA office to embed environmental justice in agency programs

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EPA Administrator Michael Regan traveled to North Carolina to announce that the agency is stepping up work on environmental justice and civil rights.
Source: North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is opening its first national office dedicated to environmental justice and civil rights with an initial $3 billion in funding from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan traveled to Warren County, N.C., on Sept. 24 to announce the new senior-level agency office, which will be staffed with more than 200 people working nationwide.

"With the launch of a new national program office, we are embedding environmental justice and civil rights into the DNA of EPA and ensuring that people who've struggled to have their concerns addressed see action to solve the problems they've been facing for generations," Regan, who was raised in Goldsboro, N.C., said in a statement.

The new office will ensure that equity, civil rights and environmental justice are reflected in "all EPA practices, policies and programs," the agency said. It will also engage and provide technical assistance to communities with environmental justice concerns and enforce federal civil rights laws.

In the late 1970s, North Carolina selected a predominantly Black community in Warren County as the location for a landfill to store soil contaminated with highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls. Community protests led to hundreds of arrests and are credited by the U.S. Energy Department with launching the U.S. environmental justice movement.

The site was later designated as an EPA superfund site and cleaned up with $18 million in state and federal funds.

"I'm just excited about today," Dollie Burwell, one of the Warren County landfill protesters, told The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer at the EPA event. "I'm hopeful that today will yield some good fruit, and I know that we here in Warren County have to continue to bend that arc."

Signed into law by President Joe Biden in August, the Inflation Reduction Act earmarks $60 billion for programs to help low-income and minority communities historically overburdened by pollution. Biden campaigned in 2020 on tackling environmental justice as part of his climate change agenda, but congressional Democrats have since been criticized by some groups for making political concessions contrary to that goal.

In late August, 653 groups wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urging them to reject a push by Republicans and some Democrats to ease the way for new fossil-based energy projects.

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