Environmental Justice:

EPA Should Devote More Attention to Environmental Justice When Developing Clean Air Rules

GAO-05-289: Published: Jul 25, 2005. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 2005.

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Executive Order 12898 made achieving "environmental justice" part of the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies. According to EPA, environmental justice involves fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes. EPA developed guidance for considering environmental justice during the development of rules under the Clean Air Act and other activities. GAO was asked to examine how EPA considered environmental justice during two phases of developing clean air rules: (1) drafting the rule, including activities of the workgroup that considered regulatory options, the economic review of the rule's costs, and making the proposed rule available for public comment, and (2) finalizing the rule, including addressing public comments and revising the economic review. GAO reviewed the three clean air rules described in the next column.

When drafting the three clean air rules, EPA generally devoted little attention to environmental justice. While EPA guidance on rulemaking states that workgroups should consider environmental justice early in this process, GAO found that a lack of guidance and training for workgroup members on identifying environmental justice issues may have limited their ability to identify such issues. In addition, while EPA officials stated that economic reviews of proposed rules consider potential environmental justice impacts, the gasoline and diesel rules did not provide decision makers with environmental justice analyses, and EPA has not identified all the types of data necessary to analyze such impacts. Finally, in all three rules, EPA mentioned environmental justice when they were published in proposed form, but the discussion in the ozone implementation rule was contradictory. In finalizing the three clean air rules, EPA considered environmental justice to varying degrees. Public commenters stated that all three rules, as proposed, raised environmental justice issues. In responding to such comments on the gasoline rule, EPA published its belief that the rule would not create such issues, but did not publish the data and assumptions supporting its belief. Specifically, EPA did not publish (1) its estimate that potentially harmful air emissions would increase in 26 of the 86 counties with refineries affected by the rule or (2) its assumption that this estimate overstated the eventual increases in refinery emissions. For the diesel rule, in response to refiners' concerns that their permits could be delayed if environmental justice issues were raised by citizens, EPA stated that the permits would not be delayed by such issues. Moreover, after reviewing the comments, EPA did not change its final economic reviews to discuss the gasoline and diesel rules' potential environmental justice impacts. Finally, the portions of the ozone implementation rule that prompted the comments about environmental justice were not included in the final rule. Overall, EPA officials said that these rules, as published in final form, did not create an environmental justice issue.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that environmental justice issues are adequately identified and considered when clean air rules are being drafted and finalized, the EPA Administrator should improve assessments of potential environmental justice impacts in economic reviews by identifying the data and developing the modeling techniques that are needed to assess such impacts.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has made progress. In particular, EPA's Office of Air and Radiation added additional demographic variables to its environmental mapping and benefits mapping and analysis program, BenMAP. The census tract ranking tool will be used to help identify communities of concern. In addition, the office completed two analyses of distributional impacts for selected rulemakings.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that environmental justice issues are adequately identified and considered when clean air rules are being drafted and finalized, the EPA Administrator should enhance the workgroups' ability to identify potential environmental justice issues through such steps as (1) providing workgroup members with guidance and training to help them identify potential environmental justice problems and (2) involving environmental justice coordinators in the workgroups when appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has made progress in several areas, particularly the following: 1) EPA developed an environmental justice module to its training for rulemaking and developed a flow chart identifying points where discussion and analysis of environmental justice issues would be appropriate in rulemaking. 2) The agency periodically offered rule-writers a webinar called Environmental Justice Considerations in Rulemaking. 3) Also, the Office of Environmental Justice offered other courses on environmental justice. 4) In 2007 EPA required training for all regulatory policy staff to familiarize them with Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and the relevance to their work. 5) EPA's Air Office established a team to increase awareness of environmental justice and developed a policy for how the air office will integrate environmental justice into its programs, policies, and activities. 6) In 2009 the air office completed a draft review of a Tribal New Source Review Permit rules using the protocol for conducting environmental justice program reviews.7) EPA's economic guidelines are being updated to highlight the process for an equity assessment. 8) EPA is working to create a scientific foundation to better quantify and characterize the disproportionate environmental health impacts on minority and low-income populations.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that environmental justice issues are adequately identified and considered when clean air rules are being drafted and finalized, the EPA Administrator should ensure that the workgroups devote attention to environmental justice while drafting and finalizing clean air rules.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has made progress in several areas, particularly the following: 1) The agency developed an agencywide process and a set of protocols for the conduct of environmental justice program reviews for the standard setting and rulemaking/regulatory development function. 2) EPA kicked off an environmental justice workgroup on incorporating environmental justice considerations in regulatory development as a cross cutting priority that will focus agency attention and resources on environmental justice issues. 3) The Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), which is now an ex officio member of the Agency?s Regulatory Steering Committee that oversees regulatory policy and rule development, led to the creation of a draft guidance document to help agency offices identify opportunities where environmental justice can be evaluated in rulemaking. 4) Also OEJ participated in two air rulemakings of particular interest to the environmental justice communities in 2008. 5) EPA developed a template for discussion of environmental justice in the form used to alert senior managers about potential issues once a workgroup chair is designated for a rulemaking

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that environmental justice issues are adequately identified and considered when clean air rules are being drafted and finalized, the EPA Administrator should direct cognizant officials to respond fully, when feasible, to public comments on environmental justice, for example, by better explaining the rationale for EPA's beliefs and by providing its supporting data.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has made progress. In particular, a portion of rulemaking training emphasizes the importance of public participation and encourages rule-writers to respond to environmental justice comments in the final rule respectfully and thoughtfully. Also, the Environmental Justice Workgroup on Incorporating EJ Considerations in Regulatory Development will make public participation an important part of its deliberations and work products.

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