The Justice Department intensifies its nationwide initiative to combat pollution in marginalized communities. Local attorneys are now equipped to translate federal environmental justice strategies into localized action.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is amplifying its commitment to environmental justice, particularly in communities of color and low-income areas. This move is in line with President Joe Biden's objective to counteract pollution and the ramifications of climate change in these communities.
The Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) of the DOJ, often dubbed the largest U.S. environmental law firm, has been spearheading this initiative since last year. To bolster their efforts, every one of the 94 local U.S. attorneys’ offices now has an environmental justice coordinator, either from the civil or criminal law domain. Their primary role is to transform the DOJ's overarching environmental justice strategy into tangible actions tailored to their respective states and localities.
Cynthia Ferguson, the director of DOJ’s Office of Environmental Justice, likens this network of coordinators to a "small army" dispersed nationwide. This office, established in 2021 following Biden's climate executive order, has already marked significant achievements. One such accomplishment was the DOJ's proactive response to the drinking water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. This incident saw over 150,000 residents without potable water for days, following a treatment plant malfunction. The federal government's intervention included appointing a water executive to supervise the repair of Jackson's water infrastructure and subsequently suing the city for violations related to drinking water.
According to E &E News, another notable achievement was an uncommon lawsuit against Denka Performance Elastomer, a petrochemical manufacturer, for air pollution in Louisiana. The environmental justice coordinators were instrumental in these endeavors, facilitating community outreach events and bridging the gap between affected communities and government lawyers.
Kate Konschnik, principal deputy assistant attorney general within ENRD, emphasized the importance of timing and cultural sensitivity in community engagement, citing the need to avoid scheduling meetings during significant community events like Bible study nights.
Highlighting some of the attorneys at the forefront of this initiative:
Osborn also highlighted the complexities of environmental justice evaluations, noting that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Factors like race, income level, and other demographics play a role, but the evaluation process remains intricate and multifaceted.
As the DOJ continues its nationwide push for environmental justice, the challenge lies in determining the exact scope of their work and ensuring that their efforts are effectively tailored to the unique needs of each community.
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