Office of Environmental Justice releases first enforcement strategy report

Nov. 16, 2023
The Office of Environmental Justice has released its first report highlighting important cases from the last year, including investigations into communities’ wastewater management.

The Justice Department’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) has released its first-ever Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy Annual Report.

The OEJ report includes highlights of important environmental justice cases from the last year as well as key collaboration efforts with federal, Tribal, state and local stakeholders.

Last year, the department created OEJ within the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) with a mandate to engage all Justice Department bureaus, components and offices in the collective pursuit of environmental justice. The department also created a Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy to guide its work in this area.

An example of the department’s work under its Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy includes the Civil Rights Division’s first ever Title VI environmental justice resolution agreement in Lowndes County, Alabama. The division’s investigation evaluated actions by the state’s health department in operating a wastewater disposal program and whether those actions discriminated against Black residents.

Ultimately, the Justice Department reached an agreement with the Alabama Department of Public Health to put it on a path to developing safe wastewater disposal and management systems.

ENRD also reached agreements in a different water management case in Jackson, Mississippi, where it negotiated interim orders with city and state officials to name a court-appointed manager and begin to stabilize Jackson’s drinking water and wastewater systems.

OEJ has worked with a coalition of federal, state and local government entities to build an outreach strategy for Jackson in support of the enforcement action and to ensure that residents and workers have an opportunity to engage in the enforcement process.

“I’m honored to serve the American people at OEJ and engage with communities throughout the country and coordinate with Justice Department and other federal entities to find solutions to environmental and health hazards,” said Director Cynthia M. Ferguson of OEJ. “Whether it’s securing the abatement of lead-based paint in lower income properties in Chicago, working to restore functioning water and wastewater systems in Jackson, Mississippi, or providing civil rights and trauma-based interview training – our efforts benefit all Americans by promoting a more equitable society.”

The Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy includes provisions for the Justice Department to partner with other federal enforcement agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General. The Justice Department is also working to strengthen coordination with Tribes and identify and prioritize affirmative litigation involving Tribal environmental justice issues.