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Justice Dept. Opens New Office to Crack Down on Polluters

May 6, 2022 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Thursday it was opening a new Office of Environmental Justice to crack down on industrial polluters.

Top priorities of the new program are reducing climate change and protecting low-income or disadvantaged communities, according to the Justice Department announcement.

“For far too long, these communities have faced barriers to accessing the justice they deserve,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

The Justice Department is collaborating with the Environmental Protection Agency to identify which polluters should be prosecuted or fined. The agencies said chemical plants and refineries are some of the most likely targets of the enforcement. 

The fines they pay would go to environmental cleanup and public health in a revival of an EPA compensation system that was ended under the Trump administration.

Announcement of the Environmental Justice Office fulfills a campaign promise of President Biden. He said he would make environmental justice a higher priority in an all-of-government strategy against climate change.

It also advances tough EPA enforcement its administrator, Michael Regan, announced in January. 

The EPA is conducting unannounced inspections of industrial sites in three Gulf Coast states known for chemical contamination.

They include Louisiana’s “chemical corridor” between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Residents of the low-income area complain they have been overlooked as chemical plants and refineries pollute their air and water.

The agency also issued notices to the city of Jackson, Mississippi, that its aging drinking water system violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and to Union Pacific Railroad that it needs to clean up creosote from a rail yard in Houston, Texas.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com and @TomRamstack

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