Equity Action Plans: Government Agencies Prioritize Environmental Justice | Foley Hoag LLP – Environmental Law

With the aim of “repairing inequalities in [Federal] policies and programs that impede equal opportunity,” the Biden administration has established an agenda to identify areas for improvement and advance fairness across the federal government. On January 20, President Biden issued Executive Order 13985 that requires agencies to produce “Equity Action Plans” which are agency-sponsored reports to assess whether underserved communities face barriers. systemic in accessing benefits and opportunities available through agency policies and programs. Of the government agencies that have produced equity action plans in response to the executive order, three government agencies have focused on environmental justice issues – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) and the Department of Energy (DOE). FERC announced its equity action plan in January 2022, while the EPA and DOE recently announced their plans in April 2022. In each plan, there were three common priorities: (1) hire more of staff, (2) improve engagement with tribal communities and (3) data collection.

Hire more staff

Each agency recognized the need for more staff to support current initiatives and implement new initiatives. Agencies’ equity action plans detail the need for more staff to effectively conduct an environmental justice review of its policies and programs. In response, the EPA, FERC, and DOE each plan to increase internal capacity by hiring more staff; in addition, agencies will strive to ensure staff readiness by implementing training on effective methods of authentic engagement within their respective stakeholders, with a focus on removing barriers preventing communities underserved to access agency resources.

Improve engagement with tribal communities

Building trust within the community is a common priority in each of the last three Equity Action Plans announced. Importantly, each agency has identified a lack of trust and engagement with tribal and indigenous communities, and plans specifically prioritize “strengthening[ing] tribal government consultation and engagement. This prioritization of agencies is a direct response to President Biden’s Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relations (Memo), which reiterated Executive Order 13175. The President’s memo required agencies to provide a detailed plan of actions the agency will take to improve engagement with tribal communities. The EPA, FERC, and DOE have complied with Executive Order 13175 by incorporating their plans into the equity action plan required by Executive Order 13985.

Data gathering

In addition, equity action plans recognize the need to address data collection gaps to ensure equitable decision-making. A review of current methodology and data will allow each agency to identify opportunities to address cumulative impacts and other relevant information to identify biases. Reviewing data collection and methods is important for tracking the progress of each organization’s equity action plan, as this review will determine how effectively the organization is integrating the environmental justice goals contained in the equity action plan.

Over the next two to four years, the EPA, FERC, and DOE plan to increase agency staff, community engagement, and data collection in hopes of addressing environmental justice issues affecting underserved communities. The DOE plans to report the results to the public every year and the FERC plans to report the results after two years. The EPA does not provide a specific timeline for reporting the results, but instead says the agency will “report progress” to Congress and the public.

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The Biden administration’s commitment to fairness across the executive branch is evident in the executive orders issued to date. Equity action plans lay the groundwork for the next steps in this process. Identifying systematic barriers and implementing specific goals to remove those barriers will be key elements in addressing environmental justice in the future, but identifying the problems is not enough. Reporting on agency results is essential for tracking agency progress and creating public transparency.

Ashley C. Reynolds