Interior rescinds two environmental justice policies

News Type: Federal Source: Mountain West News
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In early September, the Department of Interior quietly rescinded two memos that provided guidance on protecting vulnerable communities and Native American sacred sites, because, it appears, they impede “energy dominance.”

The first memo, issued in 1995, instructed bureaus to look at impacts of proposed projects and, where necessary, to evaluate the environmental consequences on vulnerable communities or human health. The second memo, drafted two years later, addressed Interior’s responsibility to protect Native American trust resources and sacred sites on federal lands. In addition to rescinding the memos, the department has delayed publication of a manual on how to conduct environmental-justice analyses and has asked BLM employees to review environmental-justice policy in the context of an “energy dominance” agenda.

Unlike protections for clean air and water, environmental-justice principles have never been codified into law. The two rescinded policy memos were issued in the wake of a 1994 executive order on environmental justice, which was seen as a necessary response to decades of environmental racism and the marginalization of low-income communities in government planning. But ensuring that the broad principles outlined in the executive order are applied at the agency level has been difficult. For instance, the chapter on the subject in the DOI’s departmental manual, which lays out the responsibilities of bureaus in applying environmental-justice principles, was only finalized the day before Trump’s inauguration.