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Herring AG opinion establishes environmental justice policy

(© Tryfonov –

It’s almost certainly going to be short-lived, but for the next month of so, Virginia, in an official legal opinion issued by outgoing Attorney General Mark Herring, has itself an environmental justice policy.

In the opinion, Herring said the Commonwealth must consider the Environmental Justice Act during the permitting process for any kind of construction, program, or policy.

“The environmental justice impacts and consequences should be considered with any kind of project or construction that happens within the Commonwealth, and it’s on the respective state agencies to ensure that happens,” Herring said. “Too often, projects that had a negative environmental impact have disproportionately affected communities of Black and Brown Virginians, many times to the detriment of the individuals’ health who lived there. Ensuring environmental justice in every corner of Virginia is just another way we will be able to pursue our goal of making the Commonwealth more open and welcoming to all.”

The Environmental Justice Act was passed during the 2020 General Assembly Session and “provides that ‘[i]t is the policy of the Commonwealth to promote environmental justice and to ensure that it is carried out throughout the Commonwealth, with a focus on environmental justice communities and fenceline communities.’”

The EJA was recently cited by the State Air Pollution Control Board in its decision to deny the permit for the Lambert Compressor Station.

As Herring notes in his opinion, “[u]nder the EJA, ‘environmental justice’ means ‘the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of every person, regardless of race, color, national origin, income, faith, or disability, regarding the development, implementation, or enforcement or any environmental law, regulation or policy.’”

Herring further explains that “the EJA defines ‘fair treatment’ as ‘the equitable consideration of all people whereby no group of people bears a disproportionate share of any negative environmental consequence resulting from an industrial, governmental, or commercial operation, program, or policy.’”

Herring concludes the opinion saying, “the Environmental Justice Act not only sets forth a policy of the Commonwealth, but also imposes specific, enforceable duties on the Commonwealth to ensure that the policy is carried out. Therefore, the Director [of the Department of Environmental Equality] must ensure that environmental justice, as defined in the Act, ‘is carried out’ when making his determinations . . .”

augusta free press
augusta free press