Environmental Justice:

EPA Needs to Take Additional Actions to Help Ensure Effective Implementation

GAO-12-77: Published: Oct 6, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 2011.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for promoting environmental justice--that is, the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people in developing, implementing, and enforcing environmental laws, regulations, and policies. In January 2010, the EPA Administrator cited environmental justice as a top priority for the agency. GAO was asked to examine (1) how EPA is implementing its environmental justice efforts, and (2) the extent that EPA has followed leading federal strategic planning practices in establishing a framework for these efforts. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed EPA strategy documents and interviewed agency officials and key stakeholders.

In recent years, EPA has renewed its efforts to make environmental justice an important part of its mission by developing a new strategy and approach for integrating environmental justice considerations into the agency's programs, policies, and activities. Under Plan EJ 2014, the agency's 4-year environmental justice implementation plan, EPA's program and regional offices are assuming principal responsibility for integrating the agency's efforts by carrying out nine implementation plans to put Plan EJ 2014 into practice. An important aspect of Plan EJ 2014 is to obtain input on major agency environmental justice initiatives from key stakeholders, including the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, impacted communities, and states. In developing its environmental justice framework, which consists of agency initiatives, including Plan EJ 2014 and the implementation plans, EPA generally followed most of the six leading federal strategic planning practices that we selected for review. For example, EPA has generally defined a mission and goals for its environmental justice efforts, ensured leadership involvement and accountability for these efforts, and coordinated with other federal agencies--all consistent with leading practices in federal strategic planning. However, EPA has not yet fully (1) established a clear strategy for how it will define key environmental justice terms or identified the resources it may need to carry out its environmental justice implementation plans, (2) articulated clearly states' roles in ongoing planning and environmental justice integration efforts, or (3) developed performance measures for eight of its nine implementation plans to track agency progress on its environmental justice goals. Without additional progress on these practices, EPA cannot assure itself, its stakeholders, and the public that it has established a framework to effectively guide and assess its efforts to integrate environmental justice across the agency. GAO is recommending that EPA develop a clear strategy to define key environmental justice terms; conduct a resource assessment; articulate clearly states' roles in ongoing planning and future implementation efforts; and develop performance measures to track the agency's progress in meeting its environmental justice goals. GAO provided a draft of this report to EPA for comment. EPA disagreed with two of GAO's recommendations, partially agreed with one recommendation, and did not directly address the remaining recommendation. GAO believes that the recommended actions will help EPA ensure clear, consistent, and measurable progress as it moves forward in implementing Plan EJ 2014.

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: To ensure that EPA continues to make progress toward the effective integration of environmental justice considerations into the agency's programs, policies, and activities, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate offices to articulate clearly in its plans the roles and responsibilities of states and continue recently initiated outreach efforts to help ensure that states are meaningfully involved in ongoing environmental justice planning and the subsequent implementation of Plan EJ 2014.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA continues to make progress toward the effective integration of environmental justice considerations into the agency's programs, policies, and activities, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate offices to conduct an assessment of the resources needed under its current plans to integrate environmental justice considerations throughout the agency to help ensure that EPA's staffing and funding resources are sufficient to meet current environmental justice goals and future changes in workload, such as provision of training to support use of key tools and guidance and potential changes in funding levels.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA continues to make progress toward the effective integration of environmental justice considerations into the agency's programs, policies, and activities, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate offices to develop a clear strategy to define key environmental justice terms in order to help the agency establish a consistent and transparent approach for identifying potential communities with environmental justice concerns.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA continues to make progress toward the effective integration of environmental justice considerations into the agency's programs, policies, and activities, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate offices to develop performance measures for Plan EJ 2014 to provide EPA managers with the information necessary to assess how effectively the agency is performing relative to its environmental justice goals and the effect of its overall environmental justice efforts on intended communities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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