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Air and Waste Management Association Holds its First Annual Environmental Justice Conference

Posted: November 14th, 2023

Authors: Rich H. 


A&WMA held its first annual conference on EJ in Arlington, VA on October 23rd and 24th. The conference had a different vibe than most of the environmental conferences industry attends and had two distinct sets of attendees:


  • Industry representatives and the consultants that work with them. Their primary interest was the permitting implications of undertaking projects in and around EJ communities and getting clarity on the expectations for those projects.
  • Social and EJ advocates who are pushing for even more activity out of the government and had stories to share from being “on the ground” in EJ communities.

The conference had two main tracks of presentations:

The first focused on community engagement and included talks on specific EJ actions that are underway, approaches to engaging the community around your facility, and other similar more social topics. This track also included one or two presentations by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that advocated action against, or even the shutdown of, specific facilities located in EJ communities that they accused of being bad neighbors. The track also included presentations on ethics and other similar kinds of issues.

The second track was more technical and focused on cumulative impact assessments (CIA), the tools, and methods for addressing EJ. This track was of great interest to the industrial community, in particular how the social stressors side of the CIA was addressed in the case studies presented. The short answer is that it wasn’t. The studies included a number of innovative air dispersion modeling approaches and other statistical analyses but did not attempt to quantify the social side at all, instead leaving that analysis to a qualitative approach that didn’t really directly address the issues or potential mitigation strategies. A notable highlight was the example of following Massachusetts’ CIA Guidance that was recently adopted for permitting actions near EJ communities. The analysis included air dispersion modeling for criteria pollutants and toxics, but nothing else to address the social side, and seemed to be no different than the modeling requirements in states that require modeling for minor source permits already (for example, Texas).

This highlights the continuing problem with CIA’s that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has thus far not been able to answer: How do you factor in the social stressors in some sort of quantitative way, so that they can be compared or added to the impacts of the chemical stressors which we do know how to quantify, to truly identify the potential cumulative impacts? The conference unfortunately had no answers to that question.

Beyond the discussions around CIA’s several different new tools addressing various types of EJ analyses were demonstrated. Most notable was a tool that would trace air emissions backwards from a potential EJ community to the upwind coal-fired power plant, sometimes hundreds of miles away, that the emissions may have come from using the HYSPLIT model to trace the origin of the emissions.

Finally, the most enlightening part of the conference may have been the Tuesday morning plenary presentation given by Matt Tejada, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Environmental Justice at U.S. EPA, Kelly Crawford, Senior Advisor for Energy and Environmental Justice at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and Ana Mascarenas, Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Aside from an update on what the various agencies recent EJ-related activities were, several notable points came out of this session, mostly from Mr. Tejada:

  • “We know what to do” to address cumulative impacts and EJ issues was a driving theme. He also suggested that addressing EJ should not add to the cost or timing of permitting projects.
  • The pending CIA guidance, when it finally arrives, will not have the specificity that industry and consultants are looking for in terms of a solid list of requirements or steps for including a CIA as part of the process. U.S. EPA clearly is either waiting for someone to perform a CIA of their own volition to point to as an example, or prefers to have each project do a CIA on a case-by-case basis. Despite Mr. Tejada’s claims, this would seem to inevitably add time, cost, and uncertainty to projects requiring a CIA with no specifics as to how to execute one.
  • Tejada was adamant, as a corollary to not providing any direct guidance on incorporating EJ into a permitting project, that industry should be taking steps to address EJ “because it’s the right thing to do,” not because it is a requirement, and suggested that industry undertake outreach programs, add additional controls, and run its own community monitoring programs as part of their projects near EJ communities regardless of what is required.
  • When pressed on the permitting guidance timing, the panel retreated and didn’t have much in the way of answers except for several vague statements about things an applicant might do that clearly would increase the cost and timing of a project, contradicting what was said during the presentation at the beginning of the session.
  • Finally, and perhaps most notably, when asked when industry was going to be invited to the table to participate in U.S. EPA’s policy making discussions, Mr. Tejada said in so many words “when I can trust you” and further suggested that he would not bring anyone into the conversation that he didn’t know he could trust, and “we’re not there yet.” This exchange drew a lot of concerned glances from the industry representatives in the room.

To summarize, the conference was interesting and informative, especially as it shed light on the administrations’ stance on EJ issues and the lack of progress or guidance in terms of how and when to conduct a CIA.

If you’d like to discuss the any issues around environmental justice concerns near your facilities and how to address them, feel free to contact your ALL4 Project Manager or Rich Hamel. We’ll continue to monitor EJ guidance from the administration and states and the tools available to evaluate EJ concerns as they develop. We can also help you evaluate permitting risks, from EJ concerns to regulatory issues, and assist in developing a strategy to make the permitting of your project as efficient as possible.


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