4 The record articles

The Role of Environmental Justice in Compliance Inspections

Posted: March 27th, 2015

Author: All4 Staff 

As the Knowledge Area Leader for air toxics (both the Clean Air Act hazardous air pollutants, and the broader set of air pollutants regulated under state and local agency programs) in ALL4’s RegTech Knowledge Center, my responsibilities include tracking, managing, and communicating (both internally and externally) regulatory and technical information to support client projects or other ALL4 needs. For the air toxics knowledge area, my realm is primarily associated with National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) and state air toxics programs. However, we have been increasingly involved in projects and prospective opportunities within another facet of air toxics – Environmental Justice (EJ). U.S. EPA defines EJ as “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.” In years past, my exposure to EJ concerned, for example, the proposed siting of a new facility in a given area, and why alternative locations were either not considered or were considered but eliminated for one (1) or more reasons, on the supposition that a particular area or community and its population were continually (and sometimes purposefully) targeted for industrial expansion.  In other words, some communities often shouldered an unfair burden of relative environmental risk compared to other communities solely due to their socio-economic conditions and the potential project under consideration could further exacerbate the disproportionate risk. 

While the former EJ activities were more planning and pre-construction related, more recent developments indicate that EJ is serving a more decidedly compliance and enforcement-related purpose [recall that air toxics are one (1) of U.S. EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives]. Specifically, U.S. EPA is using EJ as a component of targeting and conducting air toxics inspections at facilities. U.S. EPA has a screening and mapping tool (EJSCREEN) that combines environmental and demographic data on the Census track or block group level. EJSCREEN contains 12 environmental indicators that are grouped into categories of potential risk, potential exposure, and proximity to pollution sources or environmental concerns. The environmental data may be incomplete or outdated for any one (1) given area; therefore, EJSCREEN is not intended or designed to conduct environmental risk assessment per se. However, despite its historical limitations, updates and enhancements to EJSCREEN will increase its effectiveness for identifying candidates for air toxics inspections.

What does this mean to the regulated community? Now is a good time for facilities to “google” themselves to review and update the publicly available emissions data and compliance information contained in various U.S. EPA and state databases and websites (ECHO, Envirofacts, National Emission Inventory, etc.). These data should be reviewed frequently (annually at a minimum) to avoid errors that could result in your facility becoming an air toxics target. In addition, your facility may have recently performed air dispersion modeling for criteria pollutants, but when was the last time you modeled your air toxics emissions? Unless you are in a state that has a specific air toxics modeling requirement as part of a permit application submittal, the answer to that question is likely never. Regardless, it may be prudent to consider a facility-wide air toxics emissions inventory and dispersion modeling evaluation to evaluate your facility’s impact (or lack thereof) on the surrounding community so that you can be prepared to answer questions from the agency and public, not if, but when they come.



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