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The Environmental Protection Agency released today the final draft of its environmental justice strategy that would run through 2020.

The final draft of the agency’s EJ 2020 Action Agenda, which builds off the EPA’s previous, Plan EJ 2014 strategy, has three key tenets:

  • further infuse environmental justice into agency processes and decision-making, such as rulemaking, permitting and enforcement actions;
  • harness partnerships with partners from states to other federal agencies to protect communities overburdened with environmental pollution; and
  • demonstrate environmental progress on environmental justice challenges, including lead disparities, drinking water, air quality and hazardous waste sites.

I spoke with EPA Deputy Associate Administrator for Environmental Justice Charles Lee on Friday about the basics of the plan. More will be available for subscribers, but here’s a snippet from Lee on the agency’s path forward on cumulative risk and impact assessment:

We are very mindful of how communities with environmental justice issues view this as a critical issue, and they have for many years pointed out the urgent need for action. But we do realize that the quantitative approaches for cumulative assessments are challenging and require long-time effort, particularly in the kind of risk assessment science needed for regulatory standard setting. We've also learned that other approaches like those that were tried in California—more indicator, semi-quantitative approaches—provide some ability to take action on cumulative impact kind of issues.

In EJ 2020, EPA articulates a two-pronged approach, which is also reflected in the EPA's environmental justice research roadmap.

It's at first focused on decision-tools that advance the ability to act on cumulative impact issues—tools like EJSCREEN—help impact statements in the short-term. Then, it’s on research that provides a stronger foundation for cumulative risk assessment in the long term. These are focused on the complex inter-relationships between say chemicals, non-chemical social-stressors in one instance, or in others, the role of say the epigenome related to cumulative exposure.

The agency will accept public comments on the draft through July 7. The agency previously released a draft framework for its EJ 2020 Action Agenda, which it also received public comment.