March 8, 2018
By Abby Smith
The EPA wants its environmental justice advisers to take part in Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to speed Superfund cleanups, a top EPA policy official said.
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to issue a new charge to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a federal committee that offers guidance to the agency, at its upcoming summer meeting, Samantha Dravis, associate administrator in the EPA’s policy office, told the council March 8.
Dravis said the charge comes as a result of recommendations released in July by the Pruitt-convened Superfund task force. The agency is hoping the council can identify barriers and opportunities to clean up toxic waste sites, particularly those near low-income, minority, and tribal communities, she said.
The EPA aims to present the council with its new Superfund-related charge at an upcoming in-person meeting. Matthew Tejada, director of the environmental justice office, said that meeting is slated to take place in Boston toward the end of May or beginning of June.
Pruitt’s “emphasis on cleaning up Superfund and aggressively attacking exposure to lead plays into how prominently environmental justice will feature in our work,” Dravis said.
Dravis also told the advisory group that the EPA’s environmental justice office will formally be consolidated into the agency’s policy office by the end of this month. She said the move underscores Pruitt’s commitment to these issues.
The reorganization was outlined as part of a broader agency “reform plan” tucked into the EPA fiscal year 2019 budget justification.
Dravis said the EPA this year will “play a leadership role in coordinating environmental justice work across the federal family,” including through an interagency working group on environmental justice.
But advisory group members are seeking more information about the environmental justice office’s move. Council member Mildred McClain, executive director of Citizens for Environmental Justice and Harambee House, Inc., asked Dravis how the reorganization will affect the council’s work with the interagency working group.
Nicky Sheats, director of Thomas Edison State College’s Center for the Urban Environment and a council member, asked Dravis to clarify the level of funding for environmental justice work.
The Trump administration’s initial budget request for the EPA had “zeroed out” the Office of Environmental Justice, Sheats said. With the “continued commitment” to environmental justice, he asked whether environmental justice funding had been restored to previous levels.
Dravis will provide answers to council questions in the coming weeks. But she said she wants “less meetings in D.C. and more boots on the ground in states and underserved communities.”
In addition, she said the EPA plans to convene within the next month a “leadership group” from across the agency’s programs and regions to focus on environmental justice, as well as the EPA’s sustainable communities work.