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EPA Pledges Support for Environmental Justice in Indigenous Communities

On July 24, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, a policy statement that is designed to clarify the EPA’s stance on both its environmental justice principles as well as its commitment to working with federally recognized tribes and indigenous populations [1].  Previous EPA documents, including Executive Order 12898, Federal Action to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations, Plan EJ 2014, and Policy for the Administration of Environmental Programs on Indian Reservations, laid the foundation for the Policy by establishing key EPA initiatives for advancing environmental justice as well as for respecting Native American environmental and health rights. The current Policy uses the framework provided by these previous key documents, while offering more comprehensive statements on those topics.

Environmental justice, as defined by the EPA, refers to 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” [2]. The 17 policy statements in the new Policy are grouped into four different objectives that link this definition of environmental justice to the rights of indigenous peoples. These objectives include: Promoting Environmental Justice Principles in EPA Direct Implementation of Programs Policies, and Activities; Promoting Environmental Justice Principles in Tribal Environmental Protection Programs; Promoting Environmental Justice Principles in EPA’s Engagement with Indigenous Peoples; and Promoting Environmental Justice Principles in Intergovernmental Coordination and Collaboration.

The statements place particular emphasis on communication between federally recognized indigenous tribes and the EPA on decisions and policies that are related to the welfare of indigenous people. They also call for integrating environmental policies in tribal lands without sacrificing the self-determination and cultural norms of tribes, increasing public participation and community engagement within tribes, fostering mutual understanding, respect, and fair treatment between EPA and tribal authorities, and promoting intergovernmental discussion about issues that concern federally recognized tribes and indigenous peoples.

The Policy outlines the roles and responsibilities of the EPA in order to advance the stated objectives. It clarifies the duties of Assistant and Regional Administrators, Environmental Justice Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Advisors, and the Office of Environmental Justice. Much of the responsibilities of supervision and management of the Policy rest on the Assistant and Regional Administrators, who are responsible for implementing the Agency’s priorities in addition to electing a representative to serve as the Environmental Justice Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Advisor.

[1] http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/policy/indigenous/ej-indigenous-policy.pdf

[2] http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/basics/index.html


This article is part of the Summer 2014 issue of Professional Ethics Report (PER). PER, which has been in publication since 1988, reports on news and events, programs and activities, and resources related to professional ethics issues, with a particular focus on those professions whose members are engaged in scientific research and its applications.