The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-2026 Strategic Plan(1) in March 2022. Although the emphases of EPA’s Strategic Plans often change with administrations, we can be reasonably certain that the Strategic Plan reflects EPA’s regulatory priorities through 2024.
The Strategic Plan reaffirms the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. From a historical perspective, the Strategic Plan draws on the Agency’s roots, reflecting the three principles established by William Ruckelshaus, who served as the EPA’s first Administrator (1970 – 1973), to follow the science, follow the law and be transparent. Importantly, the Strategic Plan also reflects the priorities of the Biden Administration, as established in several Executive Orders, by adding a fourth principle: to advance environmental justice (EJ) and equity.
Based on these four guiding principles, the Strategic Plan incorporates the following strategies:
- Ensure Scientific Integrity and Science-Based Decision Making
- Consider the Health of Children at All Life Stages and Other Vulnerable Populations
- Advance EPA’s Organizational Excellence and Workforce Equity
- Strengthen Tribal, State and Local Partnerships to Enhance Engagement
These four strategies then drive the following seven goals:
- Tackle the Climate Crisis
- Take Decisive Action to Advance Environmental Justice (EJ) and Civil Rights
- Enforce Environmental Laws and Ensure Compliance
- Ensure Clean and Healthy Air for All Communities
- Ensure Clean and Safe Water for All Communities
- Safeguard and Revitalize Communities
- Ensure Safety of Chemicals for People and the Environment
While the first two goals may have been present in past Strategic Plans, their prominence and focus in the current Strategic Plan is noteworthy and significant.
EPA has identified three objectives to address climate change:
- Reduce emissions that cause climate change: EPA aims to exercise its authority to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutants across key sectors. This will be balanced by striving for gains in energy efficiency, grid decarbonization, renewable fuels and zero emissions.
- Accelerate resilience and adaptation to climate change impacts: EPA will provide assistance to Tribes, states, territories, communities and businesses, with particular focus on advancing environmental justice (EJ).
- Advance international and subnational climate efforts: EPA intends to collaborate with Tribal, state, local and international partners, providing technical leadership to other countries to support reduction of GHG emissions, adapt to climate change and improve resilience.
While there are always concerns about regulatory overreach, EPA’s action in this area can be positive. Over the past few years, state and local governments and the private sector have implemented a variety of programs to address greenhouse gas emissions, resiliency and climate adaptation. As a result, we have a variety of local and state guidance documents, regulations and private initiatives that can be difficult to understand and efficiently execute. Though some tailoring of analyses and solutions is necessary and can be enacted within communities, this overall mix of independent and uncoordinated approaches potentially limits the effectiveness of implementation. Clear federal policy, guidelines and regulations that build on the proactive work of local and state government and private sector initiatives could provide clarity and consistency in the climate action arena.
Over the next four years, sectors that emit larger quantities of climate pollutants – such as light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, fossil fuel-fired powerplants and the oil and gas industry – will likely be most affected by EPA regulations and incentives. Also of note, EPA is prioritizing federally recognized Tribes, all other indigenous peoples and underserved populations in its targeted support in accelerating resilience and adaptation.
EPA has also identified three objectives when taking decisive action to advance environmental justice and civil rights:
- Promote Environmental Justice and Civil Rights at the Federal, Tribal, State and Local Levels
- Embed Environmental Justice and Civil Rights into EPA’s Programs, Polices and Activities
- Strengthen Civil Rights Enforcement in Communities with Environmental Justice Concerns
Although the origins of EJ are difficult to pinpoint, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) offers the following: