On February 22, 2018, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that the Department of Justice is opening an environmental justice office within the Environment Section: the Bureau of Environmental Justice (“Bureau”).  “The Bureau’s mission will be to protect people and communities that endure a disproportionate share of environmental pollution and public health hazards.”  Using existing federal and state statutes, the Bureau will accomplish its mission through targeted oversight, investigation, and enforcement actions.

According to the press release, the Bureau’s oversight and enforcement work will focus on:

  • Ensuring compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) and land use planning laws;
  • Remediating contaminated drinking water;
  • Eliminating or reducing exposure to lead and other toxins in the environment and consumer products;
  • Challenging the federal government’s actions that repeal or reduce public health and environmental protections; and
  • Penalizing and preventing illegal discharges to air and water from facilities located in communities already burdened disproportionately with pollution.

The Bureau’s call to action is to “use the law enforcement powers of the Attorney General’s Office to identify and pursue matters affecting communities on the frontlines of the pollution battle.”  Attorney General Becerra has demonstrated that he is dedicated to prioritizing environmental protection, especially during the alleged environmental regulatory rollback of the current Trump Administration.  Establishing the Bureau is part of this larger goal.

As a result of this new focus and dedication of resources, we expect to see an increase in State enforcement actions being brought against industrial businesses in certain sectors, such as oil and gas, mining, agriculture, and shipping/transportation that are operating in areas already identified as having environmental justice concerns:  the San Joaquin Valley, the industrial areas of Los Angeles County, and certain parts of the east Bay Area.  If you are operating within these areas, consider reviewing your current environmental, health and safety practices and protocols now to avoid enforcement under this new program.