A Guide to the Environmental Justice Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Environmental Justice Act (EJA) is a critical piece of legislation that aims to address the disproportionate environmental and health impacts of federal actions on minority and low-income populations. This comprehensive guide delves into the key aspects of the EJA, providing a detailed understanding of its regulatory scope, compliance requirements, and enforcement mechanisms. Readers will learn about the specific activities and substances regulated under the EJA, the monitoring and reporting obligations for regulated entities, and the potential penalties for non-compliance. The guide also explores the EJA's relationship to other environmental regulations and the roles of various agencies in its implementation. By the end of this guide, readers will have a solid grasp of the EJA's historical context, its current requirements, and the resources available to support compliance efforts.


Key Details of the Environmental Justice Act

Issuing Agency: United States Environmental Protection Agency

Year Established: 1994

Last Amended: Not applicable

Statutory Authority: Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations"

Primary Legal Reference: Executive Order 12898, 59 Federal Register 7629

What is the Environmental Justice Act?

The Environmental Justice Act, established through Executive Order 12898 in 1994, is a federal directive that aims to address the disproportionate environmental and health impacts of federal actions on minority and low-income populations. The order operates within the broader framework of federal environmental regulations and civil rights laws, seeking to ensure fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary agency responsible for implementing and enforcing the Environmental Justice Act, in collaboration with other federal agencies. The order requires federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations.

The Environmental Justice Act's approach involves incorporating environmental justice considerations into the decision-making processes of federal agencies, promoting public participation and access to information, and fostering interagency cooperation to address environmental justice issues.

What does the Environmental Justice Act protect?

The Environmental Justice Act aims to protect minority and low-income communities from disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards and adverse health effects resulting from federal actions. The order seeks to safeguard these communities from the negative impacts of pollution, environmental degradation, and the siting of hazardous facilities in their neighborhoods. By requiring federal agencies to address environmental justice concerns in their decision-making processes, the Environmental Justice Act works to ensure that all communities, regardless of race or income, have equal protection from environmental harms and equal access to the decision-making process that impacts their environment and health.1


Regulated Activities, Entities & Prohibited Substances

The Environmental Justice Act (EJA) is a comprehensive federal regulation aimed at ensuring fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.[^100] The EJA regulates a wide range of activities and entities that may have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities, including:

  • Industrial facilities, such as manufacturing plants, refineries, and power plants
  • Waste management and disposal facilities, including landfills and incinerators
  • Transportation infrastructure projects, such as highways, airports, and rail lines
  • Agricultural activities, including the use of pesticides and fertilizers
  • Mining and extraction operations

Under the EJA, certain activities and substances are prohibited due to their potential to cause significant harm to human health and the environment, particularly in disadvantaged communities. These prohibited activities and substances include:

  1. Discharge of toxic pollutants: The release of toxic substances, such as lead, mercury, and dioxins, into the air, water, or soil is strictly prohibited under the EJA.[^101]
  2. Improper disposal of hazardous waste: Entities are prohibited from disposing of hazardous waste in a manner that may pose a threat to human health or the environment, such as in unlined landfills or through illegal dumping.[^102]
  3. Use of certain pesticides: The EJA prohibits the use of certain pesticides that have been linked to adverse health effects, particularly in agricultural settings near residential areas.[^103]
  4. Uncontrolled emissions from industrial facilities: Industrial facilities are prohibited from releasing uncontrolled emissions of air pollutants that may contribute to poor air quality in surrounding communities.[^104]

These prohibitions are based on the recognition that certain activities and substances can have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities, which often bear the burden of environmental pollution and its associated health risks. By regulating these activities and substances, the EJA aims to promote environmental justice and protect the health and well-being of all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status or background.

Relationship to Other Regulations & Agencies

The Environmental Justice Act (EJA) is part of a broader framework of federal, state, and local regulations designed to protect human health and the environment. As such, the EJA interacts with and complements other regulations and agencies in several ways:

  1. Interaction with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): The EJA builds upon the requirements of NEPA, which mandates that federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their actions and decisions.[^105] Under the EJA, agencies must also consider the distributional impacts of their actions on disadvantaged communities and take steps to mitigate any disproportionate adverse effects.
  2. Coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA plays a central role in implementing and enforcing the EJA. The agency is responsible for developing guidelines and regulations to support the EJA's goals, as well as for providing technical assistance and resources to communities and entities affected by the regulation.[^107]
  3. Collaboration with state and local agencies: The EJA requires federal agencies to collaborate with state and local governments in addressing environmental justice concerns. This includes sharing data and information, coordinating enforcement actions, and providing support for community-based environmental justice initiatives.
  4. Relationship to civil rights laws: The EJA is closely linked to civil rights laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.[^109] The EJA extends these protections to the environmental context, ensuring that all communities have equal access to clean air, water, and land.

In terms of roles and responsibilities, the EPA is the primary federal agency charged with implementing and enforcing the EJA. However, other agencies, such as the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, also play important roles in promoting environmental justice and enforcing the EJA's provisions. State and local agencies, such as environmental protection departments and planning commissions, are also critical partners in implementing the EJA and ensuring that its goals are met at the community level.

[^100]: United States Environmental Protection Agency - Environmental Justice. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice [^101]: 42 U.S.C. § 7408(a)(1) [^102]: 42 U.S.C. § 6924 [^103]: 7 U.S.C. § 136a(c)(5) [^104]: 42 U.S.C. § 7412(b) [^105]: 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) [^107]: United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). EPA's Role in Promoting International Human Rights, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Environmental Justice. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/epas-role-promoting-international-human-rights-rights-indigenous-peoples-and [^109]: 42 U.S.C. § 2000d


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Environmental Justice Act (EJA) establishes various standards and limitations to promote environmental equity and protect disadvantaged communities from disproportionate environmental harms. These standards include:

  1. Emissions limits: The EJA sets stringent emissions limits for air pollutants, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, from industrial facilities located in or near disadvantaged communities.2

  2. Water quality standards: The Act mandates strict water local communities, with a focus on reducing the discharge of toxic pollutants and protecting drinking water sources.3

  3. Soil contamination thresholds: The EJA establishes soil contamination thresholds for various pollutants, such as lead, arsenic, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to ensure that contaminated sites in disadvantaged communities are properly remediated.4

These standards are implemented through a combination of permits, monitoring requirements, and enforcement actions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting and enforcing these standards, in collaboration with state and local environmental agencies.5

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under the Environmental Justice Act, regulated entities are subject to various monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure compliance and transparency. These obligations include:

  1. Emissions monitoring: Facilities must continuously monitor their emissions using approved methods and technologies, such as continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) for air pollutants and discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) for water pollutants.6

  2. Annual reporting: Regulated entities must submit annual reports to the EPA and relevant state agencies, detailing their emissions, discharges, and compliance status. These reports must include data on the types and quantities of pollutants released, as well as any instances of non-compliance and corrective actions taken.7

  3. Recordkeeping: Facilities must maintain detailed records of their environmental performance, including monitoring data, maintenance logs, and incident reports, for a minimum of five years. These records must be made available to regulatory agencies upon request.8

These monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations are critical for ensuring that regulated entities are adhering to the standards set forth in the EJA and for providing transparency to affected communities and the public at large.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The EPA and state environmental agencies are responsible for enforcing the Environmental Justice Act through a combination of inspections, audits, and enforcement actions. The inspection process includes:

Inspection TypeFrequencyScope
RoutineAnnuallyComprehensive review of facility operations and records
TargetedAs neededFocused on specific areas of concern or non-compliance
Complaint-drivenAs neededInitiated in response to community complaints or tips

During inspections, regulated entities have the right to be present, to ask questions, and to receive copies of any inspection reports or findings. They also have the responsibility to provide access to all relevant areas of the facility and to cooperate fully with inspectors.9

Violations of the EJA can result in a range of penalties, depending on the severity and willfulness of the offense. These penalties include:

Penalty TypeExamples of ViolationsFactors Influencing Severity
Administrative penaltiesMinor recordkeeping or reporting violations- Cooperation of the violator- History of non-compliance- Duration of the violation
Civil finesExceeding emissions limits, failure to obtain permits- Harm to human health or the environment- Economic benefit gained from non-compliance
Criminal chargesKnowingly or willfully violating the Act, falsifying records- Intent to violate the law- Conspiracy to conceal violations

The EPA has the authority to assess administrative penalties of up to $37,500 per day per violation, while civil fines can reach $100,000 per day per violation. Criminal charges can result in fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations, as well as imprisonment for up to 15 years.10

Compliance Assistance & Regulatory Incentives

The EPA and other agencies offer a variety of programs and resources to help entities understand and comply with the Environmental Justice Act:

  1. Technical assistance: The EPA provides guidance documents, fact sheets, and online tools to help regulated entities interpret and meet the requirements of the EJA. The agency also offers a compliance assistance hotline and email service to answer specific questions.11

  2. Training and workshops: The EPA and industry groups host regular training sessions and workshops to educate regulated entities on compliance best practices and strategies. These events cover topics such and environmental justice community engagement.12

  3. Financial incentives: The EPA offers grants and loans to help facilities adopt cleaner technologies and practices that go beyond the minimum regulatory requirements. For example, the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program provides funding for community-based organizations to address local environmental and public health issues.13

  4. Voluntary partnership programs: The EPA also administers voluntary programs, such as the National Environmental Performance Track, which provide regulatory flexibility and other benefits to facilities that demonstrate superior environmental performance. To participate, facilities must have a proven record of compliance, implement an environmental management system, and commit to continuous improvement.14

Entities interested in these assistance and incentive programs can visit the EPA's compliance assistance website15 or contact their regional EPA office for more information on eligibility, application processes, how to apply, and potential benefits.


Regulatory History & Upcoming Changes

The Environmental Justice Act (EJA) was first enacted in 1994 as part of the larger Environmental Justice Movement, which aimed to address the disproportionate environmental burdens faced by low-income communities and communities of color[^300]. The original legislation focused on increasing public participation in environmental decision-making processes and requiring federal agencies to consider environmental justice issues in their policies and programs[^301].

In 2001, the EJA was amended to include provisions for grants and technical assistance to help communities address environmental justice concerns[^302]. This amendment also required federal agencies to develop environmental justice strategies and report on their progress in addressing disparities[^303].

The most recent major amendment to the EJA occurred in 2019, which strengthened the requirements for public participation and community engagement in environmental decision-making processes[^304]. The amendment also expanded the definition of "environmental justice community" to include not only low-income and minority populations but also indigenous communities and other vulnerable populations[^305].

Currently, there are no major proposed rules or pending legislation related to the EJA. However, the Biden administration has made environmental justice a key priority and has issued several executive orders directing federal agencies to strengthen their environmental justice efforts[^306]. These actions may lead to further regulatory changes or guidance related to the implementation of the EJA in the future.

To stay informed about potential changes to the EJA, stakeholders can:

  1. Monitor the Federal Register for proposed rules and notices related to environmental justice[^307].
  2. Engage with environmental justice organizations and coalitions that track legislative and regulatory developments.

Additional Resources

  1. Full text of the Environmental Justice Act and its amendments:
  2. EPA Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool - Interactive tool to map and identify environmental justice communities[^314].
  3. Industry and academic publications:
  4. Online courses and training materials:

[^300]: Environmental Justice Timeline [^301]: Summary of the Environmental Justice Act of 1994 [^302]: Summary of the Environmental Justice Act Amendments of 2001 [^303]: Environmental Justice Act Amendments of 2001, Section 3 [^304]: Summary of the Environmental Justice Act Amendments of 2019 [^305]: Environmental Justice Act Amendments of 2019, Section 2 [^306]: FACT SHEET: President Biden's Executive Actions on Climate and Environmental Justice [^307]: Federal Register - Environmental Justice [^314]: EPA Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool


  1. "Summary of Executive Order 12898 - Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." United States Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-executive-order-12898-federal-actions-address-environmental-justice.

  2. 40 C.F.R. § 63.1(b) (2021).

  3. 33 U.S.C. § 1313(c) (2021).

  4. 40 C.F.R. § 745.227(h) (2021).

  5. 42 U.S.C. § 7601(a) (2021).

  6. 40 C.F.R. § 60.13 (2021).

  7. 42 U.S.C. § 7414(a) (2021).

  8. 40 C.F.R. § 70.6(a)(3)(ii) (202i).

  9. EPA, "The Inspection Process,"

  10. 18 U.S.C. § 3571(c) (2021).

  11. EPA, "Compliance Assistance,"

  12. EPA, "Compliance Training,"

  13. EPA, "Environmental Justice Grants, Funding and Technical Assistance,", https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/environmental-justice-grants-funding-and-technical-assistance.

  14. EPA, "National Environmental Performance Track,", https://archive.epa.gov/performancetrack/web/html/index.html.

  15. EPA, "Compliance Assistance,", https://www.epa.gov/compliance/compliance-assistance.

Keep up with the latest

A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Environmental Justice Act. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.