WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Department of the Interior today released its Annual Environmental Justice Implementation Progress Report for 2012 documenting programs, policies and activities that “continue the momentum gained during the current Administration” to help build and sustain the environment, health and economies of low-income, minority and tribal communities.
“This annual report is a continuation of the Obama Administration's broad efforts to reinvigorate federal commitment to addressing the need for environmental justice and related concerns of minority and low-income populations,” said Rhea Suh, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Policy, Management and Budget, who is the senior appointed official for the department's implementation of the executive order calling for the report.
“The past year has continued the momentum gained during the current administration in the reinvigoration of environmental justice within this department as well as other federal agencies,” the report notes. “The Department [of the Interior] has been an active member in the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice and has participated in its collaborative efforts.”
The report complements Interior's Environmental Justice Strategic Plan released in 2012, which says that environmental justice principles “should contribute not only to natural and cultural resource management decisions, but also to mitigation of existing hazards, outreach, partnerships, training, and other measures to support healthy and economically viable minority, low-income, and tribal communities.”
The annual report's review of the diverse work of each of Interior's bureaus and offices determined that much of this work advances environmental justice. The document reports on the specific goals, strategies, and performance measures established in the strategic plan, as well as other programs and activities that may help protect communities facing disproportionate health and environmental risks.
For example, the America's Great Outdoors Initiative launched by President Obama has incorporated environmental justice concerns into its development of a 21st Century conservation and recreation agenda. As part of this initiative, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar placed special focus on rivers, urban parks, and large landscapes. The urban parks and green space components address the concerns of the 250 million Americans now living in urban areas.
During listening sessions in cities across the United States, urban residents issued a clarion call for more parks, more access to rivers, restoring neglected parks and green space, and bringing nature back to the cities.
As part of this effort, Interior has made a concerted effort to establish new urban wildlife refuges and to enhance and increase parks in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and other cities–improving access to the outdoors for all Americans.
In addition, the interagency Urban Waters Federal Partnership is working to improve the economies as well as the environments of urban neighborhoods bordering rivers across the country.
Environmental justice is an especially important component of the missions of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education, which provide services to 1.7 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives who are members of 566 federally recognized tribes. The report notes that in 2012, for example, the HEARTH Act gave tribes the ability to establish their own regulations for home and business leases and also to determine their own environmental review process on tribal lands.
Other programs and activities captured within the report include: federal collaborative efforts with a nexus to environmental justice such as the National Environmental Policy Act; climate change; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act; conferences and stakeholder listening sessions; fish consumption and advisories; and programs in support of insular communities. Interior's annual report includes an appendix reporting on several partnerships with others, including educational institutions and tribes, to share and benefit from specialized expertise in furthering environmental justice goals (see: Appendix A to the annual report).
Interior's annual report is made under Executive Order 12898 of 1994, which directed the federal government to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States and its territories and possessions…”
In 2011, Secretary Salazar in collaboration with sixteen other federal officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898, committing in part to report on progress towards the implementation and integration of environmental justice.
Interior's annual report concludes that there have been significant steps forward in the department's commitment to integrating environmental justice into its programs, policies and activities.
“While the Department is proud of its accomplishments, we realize that there is much work to be done in fully integrating environmental justice throughout the department and in ensuring that our programs, policies, and activities do not have a disproportionately high and adverse impact on minority populations and low income populations,” the report notes.
“We look forward to collaborating with federal, tribal, and local governments, as well as all interested parties and stakeholders as we continue to implement and integrate environmental justice throughout the Department.”
Interior's Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance administers the environmental justice activities. For more information about Executive Order 12898, Interior's environmental justice strategic plan, and Annual Implementation Progress Reports, please visit the Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance's environmental justice web site.