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Massachusetts’ 2024 Environmental Justice (EJ) Strategy Featured

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On February 15, 2024, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) published Massachusetts’ first-ever “Environmental Justice Strategy” (EJ Strategy).1 This EJ Strategy comes as a result of the Commonwealth’s 2021 Environmental Justice Policy, which directed all EEA agencies to develop their own environmental justice (EJ) strategies.2

The new EJ Strategy, which has been in development since October 2022,3 can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/doc/february-2024-environmental-justice-strategy-english/download.

The 2024 EJ Strategy is essentially EEA’s adoption of the polices and strategies outlined in the three previous iterations of the EJ Policy creating mandates on EEA’s agencies to consider EJ in all their operations.

Robert Durand, EEA’s Secretary from 1999-2003, recognized the importance of addressing environmental injustice and issued the Commonwealth’s first EJ Policy in October 2002.4 That 2002 EJ Policy was to ensure that EJ is an integral consideration for all EEA programs, including the grant of financial resources; the promulgation, implementation and enforcement of laws, regulations, and policies; and the provision of access to both active and passive open space.5

Durand’s 2002 EJ Policy was meant to target EEA resources that serve predominantly minority and lower-income communities.6 The 2002 EJ Policy sought, among others, to expand public participation opportunities, enhance the environmental review of new and expanding sources of pollution in EJ communities, and encourage economic investments in overburdened communities.7

In 2014, then-Governor Deval Patrick issued Executive Order No. 552 (“Executive Order on Environmental Justice”), which established an Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group, an Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and an Environmental Justice Coordinator.8 Importantly, it also mandated the EEA to update its 2002 EJ Policy.9

To comply with this, EEA in 2017 updated its 2002 EJ Policy. Among other things, EEA established enhanced and robust public participation requirements and enhanced analysis of impacts and mitigation for a project that exceeds certain Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) thresholds and located within five miles of an EJ population10, or for a project within the MEPA thresholds but located within one mile of an EJ Population.11

Under the 2017 EJ Policy, each EEA agency has a general but affirmative requirement to promote EJ in a manner consistent with its mission.12 Additionally, agencies were directed to consider—but were not required to adopt—a number of EJ approaches such as scheduling meetings at convenient times and places, translating key documents into multiple languages, providing interpreters at public meetings, and using better collaborative approaches to problem-solving.13

In June 2021 that 2017 EJ Policy was updated. The Massachusetts Legislature had enacted a new climate law (“An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy”), which in addition to mandating certain projects to conduct environmental impact reports, codified environmental justice with a legal definition for the first time in the state.14 This is found at M.G.L.A. 30, § 62.

Crucially, the 2021 EJ Policy update provided an even stronger framework for addressing environmental disparities and promoting equity throughout the Commonwealth than its 2017 predecessor, and the 2021 update better defined “environmental justice” and “EJ Populations” in accordance with the new climate law so that it may be incorporated into agency decision-making processes.15

The overarching purpose of the 2024 EJ Strategy is to ensure that the principles of EJ and equity are embedded into the work of EAA and its agencies when implementing their agendas.16 It is essentially a roadmap for EEA and its agencies to achieve such a just result and to reverse the environmental burdens that have historically plagued lower-income communities and communities of color.17

The new EJ Strategy is intended to proactively promote an equitable and just transition so that no one is left behind as the Commonwealth moves toward a clean energy economy.18

The EJ Strategy explains how EEA's agencies plan to incorporate industry-specific EJ policies into their missions.19 Certain themes within the EJ Strategy are universal across agencies and generally work to promote EJ and equity: meaningful community engagement; weighing the benefits and burdens to EJ communities as a result of a proposed project or other agency decision; language access plans; and staff training.20

Other themes include improved incentives for incorporating EJ criteria into project funding and grant awards as well as incorporating equitable policies that prioritize EJ populations in Brownfields remediation programs.21

The EEA is set to revise this EJ Strategy every three years and, starting in December 2024, the Office of Environmental Justice & Equity under EEA will produce annual progress reports.22

Governor Maura Healey has proclaimed that EJ is at the heart of her climate efforts and that this EJ Strategy is a “significant step in identifying concrete ways to increase public participation and ensure the voices of marginalized communities are at the table”.23

At the practical level, the new EJ Strategy either formalizes previously existing policies, such as the MEPA Office’s public involvement requirements, or introduces new strategies that are in the early stages of implementation, like the Energy Facilities Siting Board’s enhanced public participation procedures for projects that meet certain environmental impact thresholds, including for project sites located within one mile of an EJ population.24

Other EEA agencies and offices incorporate EJ strategies as they relate to coastal zone management, toxics use reduction assistance, fish and game practices, agricultural resource management, public utilities, clean energy, and environmental conservation, among others.25

Businesses located near EJ communities should review these statewide strategies to see how they impact any existing or future private or public projects. EJ communities themselves should be on the lookout for new and updated funding opportunities that may result from this EJ Strategy, of which such EJ communities should take advantage to lessen their burden.

Finally, individuals should monitor the EJ Strategy to determine if there are any new or strengthened public involvement opportunities that such individuals could participate in.

View the MA Interactive Environmental Justice Map Viewer...

Adam Scheckman is a law clerk at McGregor Legere & Stevens PC


FOOTNOTES

1 MA Environmental Justice Strategy Presents New Policies to Combat Statewide Environmental Injustice, Westlaw NewsRoom (Feb. 23, 2024), https://today.westlaw.com/Document/Ia4b118a0d26a11ee97398ab851623ade/View/FullText.html.
2 Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Environmental Justice Strategy (Feb. 2024), https://www.mass.gov/doc/february-2024-environmental-justice-strategy-english/download; See also Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Environmental Justice Policy (Jun. 2021), https://www.mass.gov/doc/environmental-justice-policy6242021-update/download.
3 MA Environmental Justice Strategy Presents New Policies to Combat Statewide Environmental Injustice, Westlaw NewsRoom (Feb. 23, 2024), https://today.westlaw.com/Document/Ia4b118a0d26a11ee97398ab851623ade/View/FullText.html.
4 Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, Environmental Justice Policy (Oct. 2002), https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2017/11/29/ej%20policy%202002.pdf.
5 Id.
6 Id.
7 Id.
8 Executive Order on Environmental Justice, 1276 Mass. Reg. 552 (Nov. 20, 2014), https://www.mass.gov/doc/executive-order-552-mass-register-1276/download.
9 Id.
10 An EJ Population is a neighborhood that meets one or more of the following criteria: (i) the annual median household income of twenty-five percent of households is not more than sixty-five percent of the Statewide annual median; (ii) twenty-five percent or more of residents are racial or ethnic minorities; or (iii) twenty-five percent or more of households are English isolated (that is, they lack a member over fourteen years old with English language proficiency). GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Board, 490 Mass. 747, 753-54 (2022).
11 Id.
12 Id. at 754.
13 Id.
14 An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, 2021 Mass. Acts 8; See also M.G.L.A. 30 § 62.
15 Compare Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, Environmental Justice Policy (Jan. 2017), https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2017/11/29/2017-environmental-justice-policy.pdf, with Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, Environmental Justice Policy (Jun. 2021), https://www.mass.gov/doc/environmental-justice-policy6242021-update/download.
16 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Healey-Driscoll Administration Releases First-Ever Environmental Justice Strategy for Massachusetts, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (Feb. 15, 2024), https://www.mass.gov/news/healey-driscoll-administration-releases-first-ever-environmental-justice-strategy-for-massachusetts.
17 Id.
18 Id.
19 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Healey-Driscoll Administration Releases First-Ever Environmental Justice Strategy for Massachusetts, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (Feb. 15, 2024), https://www.mass.gov/news/healey-driscoll-administration-releases-first-ever-environmental-justice-strategy-for-massachusetts; MA Environmental Justice Strategy Presents New Policies to Combat Statewide Environmental Injustice, Westlaw NewsRoom (Feb. 23, 2024), https://today.westlaw.com/Document/Ia4b118a0d26a11ee97398ab851623ade/View/FullText.html.
20 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Healey-Driscoll Administration Releases First-Ever Environmental Justice Strategy for Massachusetts, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (Feb. 15, 2024), https://www.mass.gov/news/healey-driscoll-administration-releases-first-ever-environmental-justice-strategy-for-massachusetts.
21 MA Environmental Justice Strategy Presents New Policies to Combat Statewide Environmental Injustice, Westlaw NewsRoom (Feb. 23, 2024), https://today.westlaw.com/Document/Ia4b118a0d26a11ee97398ab851623ade/View/FullText.html.
22 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Healey-Driscoll Administration Releases First-Ever Environmental Justice Strategy for Massachusetts, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (Feb. 15, 2024), https://www.mass.gov/news/healey-driscoll-administration-releases-first-ever-environmental-justice-strategy-for-massachusetts.
23 Id.
24 MA Environmental Justice Strategy Presents New Policies to Combat Statewide Environmental Injustice, Westlaw NewsRoom (Feb. 23, 2024), https://today.westlaw.com/Document/Ia4b118a0d26a11ee97398ab851623ade/View/FullText.html.
25 Id.

 

Read 656 times Last modified onWednesday, 03 April 2024 14:31
Adam Scheckman

Mr Scheckman is a Law Clerk of McGregor Legere & Stevens.

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