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The State of Environmental Justice: An Obama Administration Retrospective

May 2017

Citation: ELR 10385

Author: Benjamin Wilson, Barry Hill, Quentin Pair, and Suzi Ruhl

Environmental justice has officially been a federal priority since 1994, when Pres. Bill Clinton signed Executive Order No. 12898 directing federal agencies to include consideration of health and environmental conditions in minority, tribal, and low-income communities into agency decisionmaking. In Pres. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, he promised to strengthen the EPA Office of Environmental Justice, expand the environmental justice small grants program, and empower minority communities to respond to health threats. In 2011, the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order No. 12898, and in May 2016, EPA released its EJ 2020 Action Agenda. However, significant challenges remain, as shown by high-profile incidents such as the Flint water crisis. On December 1, 2016, ELI hosted a panel of experts to look at the Obama Administration’s legacy on environmental justice and discuss opportunities for the future. In this Dialogue, we present a transcript of the discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.

Benjamin Wilson is Managing Principal of Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. Barry Hill is a Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Law Institute, and formerly Senior Counsel for Environmental Governance of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs at EPA. Quentin Pair was a Senior Trial Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ret.), and is an adjunct professor at Howard University. Suzi Ruhl is a Senior Attorney Advisor at EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, and Co-Chair of the NEPA Committee and the Rural Communities Engagement Committee of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.

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