December 5, 2022
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OA-2022-0859
RE: Comments on EPA’s Civil Rights Obligations in Designing and Implementing the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund
As members of the Title VI Alliance1 – a coalition of attorneys, advocates, and community members seeking strengthened civil rights protections in federal environmental decision making – we appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the design and implementation of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GHGRF).
In particular, we write to provide comments on essential safeguards and principles EPA should consider to ensure that (1) funds spent and leveraged under the GHGRF directly benefit disadvantaged and low-income communities, and (2) recipients of GHGRF resources comply with their civil rights obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and other laws.
Absent meaningful consultation and adequate civil rights safeguards, investments of this scale may not fully and fairly benefit People of Color, Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Nations, and low-income communities. These communities have for too long felt the adverse health and other effects of racial segregation and inadequate environmental protection.2 Government-sanctioned discriminatory housing and land use practices have had devastating impacts on generations of residents, whose injuries include disproportionate levels of lead poisoning, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illness, cancer, and now COVID-19.3 Severe and long-standing deficiencies in federal external civil rights enforcement and oversight play a key role in enabling such environmental racism and injustice.4 The climate crisis has proven to be a threat multiplier for People of Color, Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Nations, and low-income communities even as these same communities receive disproportionately fewer resources to prepare for and recover from extreme weather and other climate-related disasters.
In our comments below, we identify several areas where EPA should ensure that civil rights obligations inform the allocation and implementation of the GHGRF, including the design of grant selection criteria, and mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and accountability. Zealous enforcement of Title VI and Executive Orders 12898, 13985, and 14008 in the expenditure of federal funds is necessary to correct the longstanding trend of concentrating industry and emitting facilities in EJ communities already disinvested and overburdened by pollution, and now contending with increasing risks due to climate change. This includes compliance with the administration’s Justice40 Initiative established under EO 14008, in which at least forty percent of the “benefits” under federal climate, energy, and environmental programs should be directed to “disadvantaged communities.”
In addition to our responses below, we urge EPA to adopt the following principles for the design and implementation of both the $7 billion for zero-emission distributed generation technologies to benefit disadvantaged and low-income communities, and the $20 billion in financing and technical assistance to be allocated by nonprofit entities.
1 Organizational signatories include Taproot Earth, Earthjustice, Alternatives for Community and Environment, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, National Housing Law Project, IDARE LLC, the Institute for Policy Integrity, BIG! Blacks in Green, Center for Environmental Health, and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. Individual signatories include Richard Grow (U.S. EPA, retired), Hannah Perls (Harvard Environmental & Energy Law Program), and Leslie Fields (Sierra Club). Please find a complete list of signatures at the end of this letter.
2 See e.g. Dorceta E. Taylor, Toxic Exposure: Landmark Cases in the South and the Rise of Environmental Justice Activism, in TOXIC COMMUNITIES: ENVIRONMENTAL-RACISM, INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION, AND RESIDENTIAL MOBILITY 6 (New York University Press 2014) (highlighting major environmental racism cases in the South). See also Christopher W. Tessum, et al., PM2.5 polluters disproportionately and systemically affect people of color in the United States, Sci. Advances, vol. 27, no. 18 (Apr. 28, 2021).
3 See, e.g., Jyotsna S. Jagai et al., The Association Between Environmental Quality and Diabetes in the U.S., Journal of Diabetes Investigation (Oct. 2019) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7078099/, Olga Khazan, A Frightening New Reason to Worry About Air Pollution, The Atlantic (July 5, 2018) https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/07/a-frightening-new-reason-to-worry-about-air-pollution/564428;