On October 13, 2023, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) published its first annual report detailing the implementation of its Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy (EJ Strategy). As we reported, in mid-2022, DOJ established an Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a new Office of Environmental Justice (EJ) and External Civil Rights. DOJ’s OEJ is housed in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). DOJ intended its EJ Strategy to extend throughout the Department, in that OEJ’s mandate is to engage all DOJ bureaus, components, and offices in the collective pursuit of environmental justice. DOJ’s new report cites two main executive branch agencies involved in environmental protection and community development: EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The report touts efforts that DOJ views as EJ-related “successes” and details a number of authorities DOJ has relied upon in EJ-focused enforcement, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Affordable Care Act. Building on these highlighted successes, DOJ states that it will continue its focus on enforcement proceedings where there is a nexus with environmental justice and will seek EJ-focused mitigation to resolve such proceedings. Continue Reading New Report Suggests DOJ to Continue Actively Pursuing Environmental Justice-Focused Enforcement Actions
A January 12, 2021 US Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum extends and provides additional legal analysis to support the government’s increasing drumbeat against settling cases and reducing environmental penalties in recognition of Supplemental Environmental Projects or “SEPs.” The new memo addresses the limited circumstances under which attorneys in DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the division of DOJ that represents EPA and other federal agencies in enforcing environmental laws, may include certain mitigation requirements in settlement agreements. Issued last week by ENRD Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark on the same day that he announced his departure from the Department, the memo bolsters the previously provided rationale for ENRD’s policy prohibiting SEPs in settlement agreements. It also distinguishes SEPs from “equitable mitigation,” which the memo defines more narrowly and considers to be both permissible and appropriate. The memo also lists criteria to guide ENRD attorneys evaluating whether equitable mitigation measures are appropriate in a given civil enforcement case.
Continue Reading New Memo Doubles Down and Bolsters Justice Department Positions on Limiting Supplemental Environmental Projects
On August 11, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a new report that promotes constructive recommendations to modernize and improve the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) presented at a DOJ-hosted summit in December 2019. …
Continue Reading DOJ Issues “Rich Menu of Options” for Congress to Revise the Administrative Procedure Act
EPA is attempting to thread the needle in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic: offering clarity about ongoing federal environmental obligations to the broad swath of regulated entities faced with the threat of significant disruptions and other challenges, while contending with intense opposition from others who perceive its temporary enforcement policy as a “free pass to pollute” and a failure to enforce legal requirements. Notwithstanding the mounting scrutiny from U.S. Senators, states, and citizens groups, and now a legal challenge, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has continued implementing its temporary policy regarding the exercise of enforcement discretion due to the COVID-19 pandemic via issuance of additional guidance on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) reporting. Other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Railroad Commission of Texas, and the California Environmental Protection Agency have followed EPA’s lead in issuing their own temporary policies related to the pandemic.
Continue Reading EPA Continues Temporary COVID-19 Policies Despite Senators’, States’, Citizens Groups’ Scrutiny
Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual enforcement results for the 2018 fiscal year (ranging from October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018). The report, prepared by EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), highlights the results of the agency’s civil and criminal enforcement of the nation’s federal environmental laws over the past year. …
Continue Reading EPA’s 2018 Environmental Enforcement Results Released
The current administration has been in office for nearly two years, yet many questions regarding EPA and DOJ’s approach to environmental enforcement remain unanswered. Despite uncertainties, recent public statements and a review of concluded cases provide some insight into the government’s environmental enforcement priorities. …
Continue Reading Environmental Enforcement: Are There Any Trends?
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual enforcement and compliance results for the most recent fiscal year (FY) on February 8, 2018. The results, which cover the period from October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017, are the Trump administration’s first annual statistical report on federal environmental enforcement. The results provide insight into the administration’s focus and priorities for enforcement.
Continue Reading EPA Announces Fiscal Year 2017 Environmental Enforcement Statistics
A year ago, the regulated community and its environmental lawyers recognized that the Trump administration would bring a new approach to the enforcement of federal environmental laws, but the nature of the specific changes remained nebulous. While it is still early to speculate on the long-term impacts to enforcement that may be implemented by the administration, events over the prior year have brought the new administration’s enforcement philosophy and priorities into greater focus. This post reviews some of the key personnel, policy, and budget announcements made during President Trump’s first year in office that will shape the future of federal environmental enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency in the coming years.
Continue Reading Recapping the Year in Environmental Enforcement
After a string of highly publicized attacks on energy pipelines in different areas of the country, several Congressmen addressed a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, asking that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) respond to several questions concerning the ability and intent of the DOJ to investigate and prosecute criminal activity against energy infrastructure at the federal level. The letter also asks for DOJ clarification on whether attacks against the nation’s energy infrastructure fall within the DOJ’s understanding of 18 U.S.C. § 2331(5), which defines “domestic terrorism” to include activities that “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” and that “appear to be intended to . . . influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” …
Continue Reading Legislators Request Action on Pipeline Infrastructure Attacks, and DOJ Responds
As the presidential transition draws nearer, many have asked what the change in administration will mean for the enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws. The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, US Coast Guard and other agencies are all tasked with enforcement responsibilities under the major federal environmental statutes. The future of environmental enforcement under the incoming Trump administration thus depends on the future of each of these agencies.
Continue Reading Environmental Enforcement Through an Administration Transition