Every Californian should have the opportunity to live in a community that is healthy and safe. This means that individuals must be able to make informed decisions about the environment in which they live, work, and play, and local governments must make informed choices in the planning and development of communities. Much of the Attorney General's environmental work seeks to protect and ensure this informed decision making. The Attorney General wants every parent to know the Department of Justice has done everything it can for the health of their kids. For these reasons, 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 11 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 focused on sensitive populations or on communities that already are experiencing its adverse effects.
The Attorney General 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 repeal or reduce public health and environmental protections.
If you have information to share regarding environmental justice issues in your community, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Attorney General's Office and its Bureau of Environmental Justice use several tools to advance environmental justice
One of those tools is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 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.
Examples of CEQA comment letters submitted by the Attorney General’s Office include:
- 08/10/20: Sierra Avenue and Casa Grande Avenue Warehouse, Draft Environmental Impact Report
- 07/21/20: Lehigh Southwest Stockton Terminal, Draft Environmental Impact Report
- 11/26/19: San Bernardino International Airport Eastgate Air Cargo Facility, Draft Environmental Assessment, pdf
- 04/24/19: Inland Star Chemical Storage Warehouse Project in Carson, Mitigated Negative Declaration
- 11/07/18: Vallejo Marine Terminal and Orcem Cement Plant Environmental Impact Report
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.
SB1000 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.
The Attorney General is actively working to ensure local governments comply with SB 1000 by submitting numerous comment letters in an effort to promote effective environmental justice planning at the local level.
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.
State Departments, Boards and Agencies also refer numerous enforcement matters impacting environmental justice communities to the Attorney General. For example, the California Air Resources Board refers numerous instances of violations of diesel truck and passenger vehicle emissions rules to the Attorney General for enforcement. Another example is the State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Boards which call upon the Attorney General's Office to bring enforcement actions when they have evidence of unlawful contamination of water resources.
- 10/30/20: Attorney General Becerra and California Department of Pesticide Regulation File Complaint Against Alpine Helicopter Service for Exposing California Communities to Public Health Risks
- 05/07/19: Attorney General Becerra Announces Settlement with Companies Charged with Selling Lead- and Cadmium-Tainted Jewelry
Over the past four years, the Attorney General has stepped in to protect environmental justice communities and vulnerable populations when the Federal Government has failed to do its job.
For example, in August 2019, the Attorney General joined a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s failure to follow the law and make the required safety finding for chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used on more than 80 food crops, including many consumed by children. He also joined a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit against the EPA over its decision to suspend critical safeguards for agricultural workers. The EPA subsequently withdrew its decision. Earlier this year, the Attorney General led a 10-state coalition in filing comments on the EPA’s proposed amendments to nationwide standards for controlling and remediating lead in drinking water, also known as the Lead and Copper Rule.
- 11/09/20: Attorney General Becerra, Governor Newsom and State Agencies Oppose Sale of Oil and Gas Leases in Kern County
- 10/29/20: Attorney General Becerra: Trump Administration Removes Critical Public Health Protections for Agricultural Workers in the Midst of Pandemic
- 09/25/20: Attorney General Becerra Slams Trump Administration Plan to Sell Seven Oil and Gas Leases in Kern County
- 04/06/20: Attorney General Becerra Blasts the EPA for Endangering California's Agricultural Communities by Downgrading the Cancer Risk Assessment of Dangerous Pesticide
- 02/12/20: Attorney General Becerra: EPA’s Proposed Standards on Lead in Drinking Water Fail the Test Americans Expect
- 01/30/20: Attorney General Becerra Urges EPA to Withdraw Plan Permitting Workers and Families to be Exposed to Pesticides
- 08/07/19: Attorney General Becerra Files Petition Challenging EPA’s Refusal to Address Dangerous Pesticide Chlorpyrifos
- 06/10/19: Attorney General Becerra Denounces Misguided BLM Proposal to Open Central California to Fracking for Oil and Gas
- 10/23/18: Attorney General Becerra Seeks to Join Suit Challenging EPA’s Harmful Rule Weakening Air Toxic Requirements
- 06/14/18: EPA Backs Down, Will Implement Critical Safeguards for Agricultural Workers after Lawsuit by New York, California and Maryland
- 05/30/18: Attorney General Becerra Sues EPA for Suspending Critical Safeguards for Agricultural Workers
- 03/06/18: Attorney General Becerra: EPA Must Be Held Accountable for Required Safety Finding on Pesticide
- 06/06/17: Attorney General Xavier Becerra Calls On EPA Administrator To Issue Safety Findings On Pesticide
Supporting State and Local Governments:
- 09/16/20: Attorney General Becerra Submits Comment in Support of Los Angeles County’s efforts to establish a “Green Zones” Ordinance
- 07/28/20: Attorney General Becerra Files Amicus Brief in Support of Richmond’s Ordinance on the Storage and Handling of Coal and Petroleum Coke
- 07/20/20: Attorney General Becerra Files Amicus Brief in Support of Oakland's Authority to Protect Environmental Justice Communities
- 01/07/20: Attorney General Becerra Supports State of Washington’s Right to Deny Pollution-Causing Coal Export Project
- 11/13/19: Attorney General Becerra Submits Comments on Riverside County Good Neighbor Policy
- 04/12/19: Attorney General Becerra Files Amicus Brief in Support of Portland Ordinance Prohibiting the Bulk Loading of Crude Oil Onto Marine Tank Vessels
- 12/17/18: Attorney General Becerra Files Brief Supporting Oakland’s Right to Protect Residents from Coal Transport Pollution
- 07/17/18: Attorney General Becerra Applauds City of Arvin’s New Oil and Gas Ordinance
- 12/08/17: Attorney General Becerra Files Amicus Brief Supporting Oakland’s Ban on Storage and Handling of Coal
Protecting Public Health and Safety:
- 09/16/20: Attorney General Becerra Files Motion to Intervene in Lawsuit to Protect Vulnerable Communities in San Joaquin Valley from Air Pollution
- 10/08/18: Attorney General Becerra Files Amicus Brief in Support of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s Authority to Investigate Torrance Refinery Explosion
- 04/26/18: Attorney General Becerra Urges SCAQMD to Regulate the Use of Hydrogen Fluoride at Refineries