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Preparing Your Business for Environmental Justice

Your company should keep these four key considerations in mind when evaluating environmental justice risk.

Preparing your business for environmental justice (EJ) continues to be a relevant and complex issue increasingly addressed by federal and state regulations. 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 and highlighting DOJ authorities in EJ enforcement, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile state legislatures have been taking steps to identify impacted communities, measure long-term health impacts, evaluate siting for future industrial projects, and ensure all communities have equal access to a healthy environment.

To prepare your business for future EJ legislative and regulatory actions, APTIM’s federal policy experts and environmental solutions providers propose four key considerations to plan, mitigate, and continuously improve your business strategy and operations in support of EJ policy principles.

1. Consider Federal Actions and Priorities

Understanding federal enforcement and funding activities is imperative to respond to risks and opportunities for your business associated with EJ. Since 2022, the Biden Administration demonstrated a commitment to EJ through the following actions:

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened its Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, staffed by more than 200 people and led by a Senate-confirmed assistant administrator.
  • More than 56% of EPA’s on-site inspections were at facilities in overburdened communities, and more than 44% of enforcement cases involved facilities in areas with potential EJ concern—the highest percentage since the EPA began tracking this metric.
  • DOJ released its Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy, developed in partnership with EPA. The strategy will direct their litigations, investigators, and US attorneys in enforcing federal environmental laws guided by four main principles:
    • Prioritize cases that reduce public health and environmental harms to overburdened and underserved communities
    • Make strategic use of all available legal tools to address EJ concerns
    • Ensure meaningful engagement with impacted communities
    • Promote transparency regarding EJ enforcement efforts and their results
  • Penalties for EJ enforcement cases totaled more than 26% of all administrative and civil judicial penalties assessed by the EPA.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act was enacted, providing a $3 billion block grant for distribution to states, tribes, and nonprofit organizations for EJ-related activities, such as monitoring air pollution, mitigating climate risk, and engaging disadvantaged communities.

2. Pay Attention to State Regulations

Advances in environmental law traditionally occur at the state level, and EJ is no exception. In the absence of a clear federal legal standard for EJ, states are taking the lead by using a variety of tools and mechanisms to increase public participation in the regulatory, permitting, and compliance processes. New Jersey has taken perhaps the most proactive approach, followed by California, Illinois, and New York. Several states, like Virginia, have established task forces, commissions, and offices to address disproportionate human health and environmental impacts of their programs and policies.

Some recently enacted EJ-related state bills include:

  • New Jersey SB 232 (2020) requires the Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities (e.g., gas-fired power plants and wastewater treatment plants and landfills) and deny permits when analyses determine disproportionately negative impacts of the facility on the surrounding community.
  • Massachusetts SB 9 (2021) defines EJ populations for the first time in state statute. The definition of “environmental burden” for key permit reviews includes climate change for the first time.
  • New York SB 8830 (2022) addresses equitable siting facilities and requires environmental impact statements to determine whether the facility siting will cause or increase a disproportionate burden on disadvantaged communities. With this law, New York joins states like New Jersey and Maryland that have enacted cumulative impact or environmental justice laws.

To understand and stay abreast of the rapidly changing landscape of state EJ laws and policies affecting your business locations, visit this law library.

3. Identify High Risk Business Locations

There are emerging policy guidelines and geographically-based screening tools, such as the EPA’s EJScreen and the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, that can help you plan your business strategy and operations appropriately. Some states, including Maryland and Vermont, have also launched their own EJ-focused screening tools. These tools use socioeconomic and environmental data to pinpoint neighborhoods facing the greatest risks and burdens in terms of pollution. Your business might use these tools to identify high-risk locations that should be monitored regularly.

 4. Move Beyond Mere Compliance

In today’s EJ landscape, mere compliance with permitted standards and historic legal standards may not be enough. EJ advocates are pushing to incorporate racial and socioeconomic justice concepts into their demands, including:

  • Enhanced, transparent, and accessible opportunities for meaningful participation in project-planning and permitting processes
  • Clear pathways for legal standing and resolution
  • Payments or beneficial outcomes to communities subject to environmental harms and discrimination

These demands translate into expectations for your company to prepare and act prudently by incorporating principles of equity and justice data into planning and decision-making. As a first step, APTIM’s team of subject matter experts can help develop frameworks to collect and evaluate relevant data to identify communities facing significant and sustained environmental challenges where your company does business or maintains facilities.


If you are interested in learning more about how your company or facility can plan with EJ in mind, please reach out to our Senior Policy Analyst Tim Olson at or visit our Large Policy Management page.

APTIM. In Pursuit of Better.