DOT Agencies Strengthen Environmental Justice Efforts

At ATLP’s final Fall Forum session last month, officials from various modal agencies under the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) discussed agency activities related to environmental justice.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”  The Biden Administration has indicated that environmental justice is a priority issue area for the President, as reflected in Executive Order 14,008 (“Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” – issued January 27, 2021) and the whole-of-government Justice 40 Initiative announced in Summer 2021 to implement the environmental justice-related aspects of the E.O. 

The Interim Implementation Guidance for the Justice 40 Initiative, issued by the Office of Management and Budget on July 20, 2021 (M-21-28), states that “President Biden is committed to securing environmental justice and spurring economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment in housing, transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure, and health care.”  To this end, DOT conducted two public input sessions regarding Justice 40 in November 2021 (https://www.transportation.gov/equity-Justice40). 

At ATLP’s Fall Forum session on December 6, 2021, I (Robin) asked the DOT officials in attendance to provide more information about their agencies’ environmental justice activities. 

  • Tristan Brown, Acting Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), announced that the agency will be dedicating additional funds and resources to environmental justice-related HazMat issues pursuant to the Justice 40 Initiative.  On the pipeline side, Mr. Brown reported that PHMSA is placing additional emphasis on community demographics when evaluating applications for new pipelines and will be issuing grant funding to support mitigation of existing high-risk pipelines.  Mr. Brown emphasized that PHMSA is strengthening its expertise on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementation in order to better incorporate environmental justice considerations into the NEPA review process. 
  • Allison Ishihara Fultz, Chief Counsel of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said that the agency is strengthening its efforts to listen to communities on a wide range of environmental justice-related topics, including grade crossings.  She announced that the FRA is planning to issue grant funding to support community participation in FRA decision-making, which will be coupled with broader FRA outreach efforts.
  • Mark Bury, Deputy Chief Counsel for Operations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), stated that environmental issues broadly are receiving greater attention within FAA decision-making.  With respect to environmental justice considerations, Mr. Bury identified airport funding and aviation noise as key issues.  He also discussed the recent Ninth Circuit decision in Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice v. Federal Aviation Administration, 2021 WL 5366904 (9th Cir. Nov. 18, 2021).  This decision upheld the FAA’s denial of a Petition for Review filed by the State of California and environmental and community groups regarding the FAA’s NEPA Record of Decision finding no significant environmental impact stemming from the construction and operation of an Amazon air cargo facility at the San Bernardino International Airport.  (Incidentally, I used this opinion in my Environmental Law, Policy, and Justice final project this year, and the students really enjoyed it.  The dissent in particular is a good read.)
  • Earl Adams Jr., Chief Counsel of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), reported that the FMCSA is focusing on diversity in hiring, both within the agency and the motor carrier profession more generally.  Additionally, Mr. Adams discussed FMCSA’s cooperation with Truckers Against Trafficking, a U.S. 501(c)(3) organization that trains members of the trucking and bus industries to recognize and report human trafficking and modern-day slavery.  Mr. Adams also announced that the FMCSA is stepping up its oversight of moving companies, which can prey on poor communities. 
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