On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who “disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities.”
To lead this effort Biden has nominated Michael Regan to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Regan, who currently heads North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, would be the first Black man to serve as EPA Administrator in the agency’s 50-year history. His appointment has fueled expectations that the agency will make environmental justice a top priority.
The EPA first created an Office of Environmental Justice in 1992, but I know from my research on decades of the agency’s work that it has never given the issue sustained attention. Despite activism from a growing environmental justice movement, widespread evidence that pollution over-burdens poor and minority communities, and a Clinton-era executive order that mandated federal action, the EPA has largely failed to modify its programs, policies, and decision-making processes in response.