Environmental Justice

Every Californian should have the opportunity to live in a community that is healthy and safe. This is especially true for low-income communities and communities of color, who suffer disproportionate exposure to pollution and the corresponding health impacts from that exposure. In order to help protect community health and well-being, on February 22, 2018, Attorney General Becerra established the Bureau of Environmental Justice, and, on April 28, 2021, Attorney General Bonta announced the expansion of the Bureau. Today, the Bureau is comprised of 12 attorneys who are solely focused on fighting environmental injustices throughout the state of California and giving a voice to frontline communities who are all too often under-resourced and overburdened.

The Bureau of Environmental Justice

The Bureau of Environmental Justice’s mission is to protect people and communities that endure a disproportionate share of environmental pollution and public health hazards.

Under state law: “[E]nvironmental justice” means the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. (Gov. Code, § 65040.12, subd. (e)).

Fairness in this context means that the benefits of a healthy environment should be available to everyone, and the burdens of pollution should not be borne by sensitive populations or communities that already are experiencing its adverse effects.

Attorney General Bonta believes in the importance of dedicating attorneys and resources to fighting environmental injustices. A first-of-its-kind bureau in a state attorney general’s office, the Bureau of Environmental Justice focuses on:

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

If you have information to share regarding environmental justice issues in your community, please reach out to ej@doj.ca.gov.

The Attorney General's Office and its Bureau of Environmental Justice use several tools to advance environmental justice

Those tools include the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

CEQA requires government agencies in California to consider potentially significant environmental impacts on communities already burdened with pollution when reviewing and permitting new projects. The Attorney General is particularly concerned that land use planning and permitting decisions consider and address any additional burdens on environmental justice communities. For example, in July 2021, Attorney General Bonta filed a lawsuit against the City of Fontana challenging its approval of a large warehouse project in a low-income neighborhood that already suffers from some of the highest pollution levels in all of California.

Similar to CEQA, NEPA requires federal agencies to comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. In January 2022, the Attorney General filed a petition for rehearing en banc" before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in litigation challenging a large airport expansion project in San Bernardino, California. The area near the San Bernardino airport is home to low-income communities and communities of color who already suffer disproportionately from air pollution-related illnesses such as asthma and heart diseases.

Other examples of the Bureau’s work can be seen through comment letters submitted, including:

The complete list of the Office's CEQA comment letters can be found at https://oag.ca.gov/environment/ceqa/letters.

Through its review of hundreds of warehouse projects across the state, the Bureau of Environmental Justice has collected best practices and mitigation measures to assist local governments in complying with CEQA and to promote environmentally-just warehouse development across California.

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SB 1000 requires every California city and county that contains a disadvantaged community to address environmental justice in their General Plan. This includes identifying policies to reduce the unique or compounded health risks in environmental justice communities, prioritizing programs that address the needs of these communities, and promoting community engagement in decision-making processes.

Through its review of many general plans across the state, the Bureau of Environmental Justice has collected best practices for implementing SB 1000 and published guidance.

More information about SB 1000 and a complete list of the Attorney General’s SB 1000 comment letters can be found at https://oag.ca.gov/environment/sb1000.

The Attorney General has repeatedly pushed the federal government to protect environmental justice communities and vulnerable populations when regulations and policies have been insufficient.

For example, in October 2021, Attorney General Bonta led a coalition in urging the EPA to adopt strong regulations limiting oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions from heavy-duty trucks. The Attorney General has also called on federal agencies to consider environmental justice impacts in new rulemaking, including comments to the Bureau of Land Management on their coal leasing program and to the EPA on their proposal to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons. Attorney General Bonta, as part of a coalition, also secured a court decision that led the EPA to issue a new rule that effectively ended the use of chlorpyrifos in agricultural production.

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