(Reuters) – The US Department of Justice said on Thursday that it set up a new office to help low-income areas and color communities combat the disproportionate effects of pollution and reverse a Trump-era environmental oversight policy that critics said made it harder to hold large polluters accountable and discourage future violations.
At a press conference, Justice Minister Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice would restore the use of so-called “complementary environmental projects”.
Such projects are sometimes added as a condition of civilian settlements, and they require the offending company to go beyond paying fines by agreeing to fund a project that will also help support the damaged community and reduce public health risks.
“While violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, colored communities, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the bulk of the damage caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,”; he said.
“For too long, these societies have faced obstacles to accessing the justice they deserve.”
Violations can include carcinogenic toxic air pollutants, inadequate wastewater management and harmful emissions in public schools, officials said.
On Wednesday, 55 environmental groups sent a letter to congressional leaders citing a decline in federal environmental oversight activities.
In the letter, they called on Congress to approve President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s oversight office, David Uhlmann, who has been waiting for confirmation for more than a year.
Cynthia Ferguson, a lawyer from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources’s Department of Environmental Supervision, will head the new office.
During President Donald Trump’s term, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the former head of the Department’s Department of the Environment, pursued a controversial policy that ranged from restrictions on the Department’s pursuit of criminal environmental goals to a ban on complementary environmental projects in civilian settlements.
Most of these policies have since been repealed.