EPA administrator pledges to restore environmental justice to vulnerable communities: ‘These people have been ignored for decades’

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The Environmental Protection Agency is committed to addressing environmental justice concerns in marginalized communities with a series of actions announced Wednesday. Some vulnerable populations in the South could begin to see changes “immediately,” according to EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

“These communities deserve to know what’s in the air they breathe and what’s in the water they drink,” Regan told CBS News Maj. Garrett on Thursday. “And they deserve to know in real time.”

The EPA will hold polluting facilities accountable by mobilizing resources to invest in air monitoring and conducting unannounced facility inspections. The EPA also outlined community-specific actions to take to address community concerns.

The agency’s policy actions follow a tour of cities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas to learn about communities and protect them from pollution. Regan said the agency has focused on marginalized communities in the three southern states because of the persistent environmental justice issues they have historically faced. According to the EPA, low-income and minority communities are “more likely to be affected by environmental hazards and more likely to live near contaminated land.”

“These people have been ignored for decades, and we really wanted to put faces to these issues that we’ve heard so much about,” the admin said.

He admitted that agencies at all levels “need to do better,” but noted on Thursday that the Biden administration has made environmental justice a “centerpiece” of its work.

The EPA’s latest actions will also make $20 million in American Rescue Plan grants available to improve air quality in vulnerable communities, the EPA said. The agency also unveiled a project on Wednesday along with the actions called the Pollution Accountability Team, which aims to provide strict environmental compliance and oversight across the South.

Regan said some communities in the tri-states have already started to see improvements from the plan. Like in Louisiana, where the agency issued violation notices to industries after recent inspections identified air monitoring violations.

“We started our action immediately and we heard from the community that they are very grateful that they didn’t wait too long to see us put our money where we are,” he said.

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