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Environmental Justice

What is environmental justice?

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, culture, education or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.
  • Fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local and tribal environmental programs and policies.  
  • Meaningful involvement means that:
    • Potentially affected community residents have an appropriate opportunity to participate in decisions about a proposed activity that will affect their environment or health;
    • The public's contribution can influence the agency's decision; 
    • The concerns of all participants involved will be considered in the decision-making process 
    • The decision-makers seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.
  • Environmental justice is achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, work, learn and play.
    Source: EPA

DEQ is committed to the principles of environmental justice and to ensuring that the agency’s actions – including permitting, cleanup, policy and planning, outreach and education, and compliance and enforcement – address the interests of Oregon communities, especially minority, low-income and other traditionally underrepresented communities, as much as state and federal laws allow. 

Ensuring environmental justice

DEQ adopted an Environmental Justice Policy in 1997 to guide the agency’s work, including principles for making environmental equity inherent in the way DEQ does business. In 2023, DEQ intends to update this policy to align with updates at the federal and state level, and better support Oregon's commitment to environmental justice. 

In addition to this important policy work, DEQ is:
  • Working with the Environmental Justice Council and many Oregon state agency partners to implement the updates to Oregon's EJ policies and practices under House Bill 4077, passed by the 2022 Oregon Legislature.
    • This work builds on the framework established by Senate Bill 420 (2007) which directed DEQ and other state agencies to enhance public participation in the agency’s actions and ensure the meaningful involvement of people who may be affected by these decisions.
  • Connecting the work of environmental justice to other regulatory requirements, such as compliance with federal laws under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, to ensure equitable access for all people to government services and decision-making.
    • DEQ is developing an agency plan to address language access disparities for people using DEQ's services, including how the agency provides important environmental and public health information to people with limited English proficiency
  • Including both general and specific commitments for environmental justice-related activities in the Performance Partnership Agreement with U.S. EPA.
  • Providing training for DEQ employees to raise awareness about environmental justice issues and what each employee can do to help ensure environmental equity in DEQ’s work.
  • Incorporating environmental justice considerations into decision-making and planning documents used by agency staff for project and program development.

Environmental Justice Council

In 2022, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 4077 that renamed and codified the then existing Environmental Justice Task Force as the Environmental Justice Council.
environmental justice rally


Matt Davis, Policy and External Affairs Manager