EPA strategic plan touts climate, environmental justice goals

By Kevin Bogardus | 10/04/2021 12:04 PM EST

EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Capitol Hill on April 28. Francis Chung/E&E News

EPA has released a new forward-looking proposal that puts fighting climate change and advancing environmental justice at the center of the agency’s agenda.

On Friday, EPA released its draft strategic plan that will help the agency chart its course over the next several years. While emphasizing action on climate and equity, the plan also pays respect to EPA’s history and seeks to build upon it.

Administrator Michael Regan told EPA employees in an internal email obtained by E&E News that the agency has renewed its commitment to three institutional principles espoused by William Ruckelshaus, the agency’s first administrator, which are to "follow the science, follow the law, and be transparent."

"We also add a fourth foundational principle: advance justice and equity," Regan said in the email sent Friday. "These four principles form the basis of the agency’s culture and will guide our day-to-day work and decision-making now and into the future."

Regan also said EPA’s plan includes for the first time strategic goals to tackle climate change and to champion environmental justice and civil rights. He said those priorities are "embedded" throughout the plan.

For EPA, it’s a marked change from the Trump administration. The agency’s prior strategic plan, released four years ago, did not mention climate change and was centered around catchphrases from then-Administrator Scott Pruitt like "cooperative federalism" and "rule of law" (E&E News PM, Oct. 4, 2017).

The Biden administration has sought to elevate environmental justice across the federal government, particularly at EPA. The president’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal calls for the creation of a Senate-confirmed assistant administrator to lead on environmental justice at the agency as well as a $1.8 billion spending boost to fight climate change, with about half of that sum for environmental justice work (Greenwire, June 1).

The Biden EPA’s strategic plan, covering fiscal 2022 through fiscal 2026, has seven goals and four cross-agency strategies.

Those four strategies focus on scientific integrity; children’s health; workforce equity; and engagement with state, local and tribal governments. Along with climate change and environmental justice, the plan’s goals are enforcing environmental laws, clean air, clean water, waste cleanup and environmental emergencies, as well as chemical safety.

Some parts of the plan, which is still only a draft, have numbers waiting to be filled in. But other sections do have specific figures to share on environmental goals the agency is aiming to achieve by fiscal 2026.

By Sept. 30, 2026, EPA’s climate partnership programs will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 533 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the plan said. Also by then, the agency will have issued rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trucks and cars, power plants, and the oil and gas industry.

By that 2026 date, EPA plans to conduct 55 percent of inspections annually at facilities that trigger "potential environmental justice concerns," the document said. In addition, the agency is targeting to reduce power plant nitrogen oxide emissions by 21 percent and have U.S. consumption of hydrochlorofluorocarbons under 76.2 tons per year on that timeline.

Further, the agency will reduce the number of water systems not in compliance with health standards from 3,508 to 600 by September 2026. The agency also wants to get human exposure under control at an additional 60 Superfund sites and clean up another 650 brownfield properties by then, according to the plan.

The strategic plan also seeks to improve agency operations.

It calls for all EPA computer systems to adopt multifactor authentication, compared to a July 2021 baseline of 40 percent, and initiate climate resiliency projects for EPA-owned facilities.

Another long-term goal is to eliminate EPA’s backlog of overdue Freedom of Information Act responses. The plan noted the agency had an August 2021 baseline of 1,148.

EPA’s strategic plan is open for public comment through Nov. 12. The final plan will be issued in February along with the agency’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal.