Environmental Justice: Measurable Benchmarks Needed to Gauge EPA Progress in Correcting Past Problems Page: 2 of 17
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Highlights of GAO-07-1140T, a testimony
before the Subommittee on Superfund and
Environmental Health, Committee on
Environment and Public Works, United
Why GAO Did This Study
A 1994 Executive Order sought to
ensure that minority and low-
income populations are not
subjected to disproportionately
high levels of environmental risk.
Studies have shown that these
groups are indeed
disproportionately exposed to air
pollution and other environmental
and health problems. The Order
sought to address the problem by
requiring EPA and other federal
agencies to make achieving
environmental justice part of their
In July 2005, GAO issued a report
entitled, Environmental Justice:
EPA Should Devote More Attention
to Environmental Justice When
Developing Clean Air Rules (GAO-
05-289). Focusing on three specific
rules for detailed study, the report
identified a number of weaknesses
in EPA's approach to ensuring that
environmental justice is considered
from the early stages of rule
development through their
issuance. The report made several
recommendations, to which EPA
replied in an August 24, 2006 letter.
GAO also met recently with
cognizant EPA staff to obtain
updated information on the
agency's responses to these
In this testimony, GAO (1)
summarizes the key findings of its
2005 report, (2) outlines its
recommendations to EPA and
EPA's August 2006 responses, and
(3) provides updated information
on subsequent EPA actions.
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact John
Stephenson at (202) 512-3841 or
Measurable Benchmarks Needed to
Gauge EPA Progress in Correcting Past
What GAO Found
EPA generally devoted little attention to environmental justice when drafting
three significant clean air rules between fiscal years 2000 and 2004. GAO's
2005 report concluded, for example, that while EPA guidance on rulemaking
states that workgroups should consider environmental justice early in the
process, a lack of guidance and training for workgroup members on how to
identify potential environmental justice impacts limited their ability to
analyze such issues. Similarly, while EPA considered environmental justice
to varying degrees in the final stages of the rulemaking process, in general
the agency rarely provided a clear rationale for its decisions on
environmental justice-related matters. For example, in responding to
comments during the final phase of one of the rules, EPA asserted that the
rule would not have any disproportionate impacts on low-income or
minority communities, but did not publish any data or the agency's
assumptions in support of that conclusion.
Among its recommendations, GAO called on EPA to ensure that its
rulemaking workgroups devote attention to environmental justice while
drafting and finalizing clean air rules. EPA's August 2006 letter responded
that it had made its Office of Environmental Justice an ex officio member of
the Regulatory Steering Committee so that it would be aware of important
regulations under development and participate in workgroups as necessary.
GAO also recommended that EPA improve the way environmental justice
impacts are addressed in its economic reviews by identifying the data and
developing the modeling techniques needed to assess such impacts. EPA
responded that its Office of Air and Radiation was examining ways to
improve its air models so it could better account for the socioeconomic
variables identified in the Executive Order. GAO also recommended that
cognizant EPA officials respond more fully to public comments on
environmental justice by better explaining their rationale and by providing
the supporting data for the agency's decisions. EPA responded that it would
re-emphasize the need to respond fully to public comments, include the
rationale for its regulatory approach, and describe its supporting data
Recent discussions between GAO and EPA officials suggest that some
progress has been made to incorporate environmental justice concerns in
the agency's air rulemaking, but that significant challenges remain. For
example, while the Office of Environmental Justice may be an ex officio
member of the Regulatory Steering Committee, it has not participated
directly in any air rules that have been proposed or finalized since EPA's
August 2006 letter to GAO. Also, according to EPA staff, some of the training
courses that were planned have not yet been developed due to staff turnover
among other reasons. When asked about GAO's recommendation that
cognizant officials respond more fully to public comments on environmental
justice, the EPA officials cited a recent rulemaking in which this was done.
But the officials said they were unaware of any memoranda or revised
guidance that would encourage more global progress on this key issue.
,United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Environmental Justice: Measurable Benchmarks Needed to Gauge EPA Progress in Correcting Past Problems, text, July 25, 2007; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc293629/m1/2/: accessed December 14, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.