Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim Delivers Remarks Announcing Launch of Environmental Justice Investigation into the City of Houston, Texas
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, U.S. Attorney Lowery, and good morning, everyone.
Assistant Attorney General Clarke noted that this investigation builds on the Justice Department’s “response to ever-increasing environmental justice issues.” Too often, we see that the health of an individual, and of her family, turns on where she lives. In America, your zip code is often a key determinant in your cancer risk, your risk of pulmonary or respiratory ailments, even your expected life span.
It is true that any of us could be exposed to environmental contamination, feel the worsening effects of climate change, or fall victim to an environmental crime. But it is also true that communities of color, low-income communities and tribal communities bear these hardships disproportionately. They are also less likely to receive the services and support needed to address those harms.
President Biden has made achieving environmental justice for all Americans a priority of his Administration, and the Justice Department is answering the call. Our recent creation of the Office of Environmental Justice and a Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy affirm our deep commitment to pursuing equal justice under law. This investigation exemplifies the department’s commitment to alleviating disproportionate environmental burdens borne all too often by communities of color, low-income communities and tribal communities.
The Office of Environmental Justice, which the Attorney General unveiled in May, will coordinate environmental justice activities across the department’s components and the United States Attorneys’ Offices. It will participate in inter-agency environmental justice efforts with the department’s federal, state, local and tribal partners. The office will facilitate greater engagement by the department with overburdened and underserved communities.
And it will also work with the recently convened Environmental Justice Enforcement Steering Committee to increase awareness across the department of our environmental justice initiatives and encourage other departmental components to bring their unique authorities to bear in the fight for environmental justice, like the Civil Rights Division has done with this investigation.
The office and the Steering Committee will also play a leadership role in the department’s Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy. Under the strategy, the Justice Department will prioritize cases that reduce public health and environmental concerns in overburdened and underserved communities. We will use all available tools to address environmental injustices, including, for example, the Civil Rights Division’s authority to investigate possible Title VI violations, like the investigation announced today.
As we go, we will meaningfully engage with impacted communities by meeting them where they are, ensuring language access, building trust and listening to their concerns and making sure that the relief we seek in our enforcement cases actually addresses the harms they face. All the while, we pledge to be transparent about our environmental justice efforts, as well as our results.
As our colleagues in the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas conduct this investigation, we in the Environment and Natural Resources Division are proud to stand by them. The Justice Department was founded in the wake of the Civil War to help protect civil rights and fight for equal justice under law. We look forward to honoring that proud tradition as we advance the cause of environmental justice.