Obama Issues Executive Order on Environmental Justice

The Obama Administration last week announced it would develop environmental justice strategies to protect the health of people living in communities overburdened by pollution.

The heads of numerous federal agencies signed the "Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898" (EJ MOU).

The document states that all communities overburdened by pollution – particularly minority, low income and tribal communities – deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the Federal decision-making process, and a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

The signing of the MOU is the latest in a series of steps the Obama Administration has taken to elevate the environmental justice conversation. Last September, EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) for the first time in more than a decade.

The MOU advances agency responsibilities outlined in the 1994 Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." The Executive Order directs each of the named Federal agencies to make environmental justice part of its mission and to work with the other agencies on environmental justice issues as members of the EJ IWG.

The EJ MOU increases the number of agencies involved and adopts the charter developed under the 1994 executive order,  provides the workgroup with more structure and direction.

It also formalizes the environmental justice commitments that agencies have made over the past year, providing a roadmap for agencies to better coordinate their efforts.

Agencies are specifically focusing on the environmental justice impacts of climate adaptation and commercial transportation, and strengthening environmental justice efforts under the National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The MOU also outlines processes and procedures to help overburdened communities more efficiently and effectively engage agencies as they make decisions.

"All too often, low-income, minority and Native Americans live in the shadows of our society’s worst pollution, facing disproportionate health impacts and greater obstacles to economic growth in communities that can’t attract businesses and new jobs. Expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for environmental justice are some of my top priorities for the work of the EPA," says EPA Administrator  Jackson. "Every agency has a unique and important role to play in ensuring that all communities receive the health and environmental protections they deserve."

The following agencies signed the EJ MOU: Environmental Protection Agency; White House Council on Environmental Quality; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Defense; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Interior; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Veterans Affairs; General Services Administration; and Small Business Administration.

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