Holder overhauls environmental justice strategy 

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 4, 2014

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today announced that his department is updating its policies to ensure that environmental burdens don’t disproportionately harm minority and low-income communities.

Speaking today at a tribal nations conference hosted by the White House, Holder announced that the Justice Department is releasing a revised environmental justice strategy and guidance “outlining how we will work to use existing environmental and civil-rights laws to help ensure that all communities, regardless of their income or demographics, are protected from environmental harm.”

He didn’t offer details about how the department’s existing policy would be revised, and the DOJ press office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

DOJ’s current environmental justice strategy and guidance are posted on its website. Those documents were issued after former President Clinton in 1994 directed federal agencies to develop plans to address disproportionate environmental impacts on low-income and minority populations. DOJ re-evaluated its policies in 2011 and determined that the initial guidance continued to “fully reflect the goals and commitments” of the agency. But DOJ said it would continue to examine its policies for potential changes.

Holder — who is slated to retire as soon as a successor takes his spot — today touted his agency’s environmental work with tribal communities. “We’ve worked to protect water rights and natural resources on tribal lands,” he said at the conference in Washington, D.C. “And we’ve vastly expanded our outreach to — and cooperation with — Indian tribes across the continent, institutionalizing ways to seek input on environmental concerns and gaining critical insights into the environmental needs of tribal nations from coast to coast.”

Climate change hitting tribes hardest — Jewell

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said today that native communities are feeling the brunt of the impacts of domestic climate change.

“One of the biggest challenges we face, as you know, is climate change, and there … are no people more affected by climate change in the United States than native people,” Jewell told conference attendees today.

She noted impacts like coastal areas that have been washed away in Alaska, changes in the thaw cycle that have affected native communities, ocean acidification that has affected shellfish populations, salt water encroaching on Florida’s freshwater supplies, and water-rights issues affecting populations in the Great Lakes region.

“We are aware of these things,” Jewell told the audience, adding that the administration wants to work with tribes on climate and energy issues, including helping “to stand up energy projects that not only support your tribes, but also provide a source of economic opportunity for your people.”