Environmental Justice (EJ) Policy

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The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) is committed to protecting the health of the citizens of Illinois and its environment, and to promoting environmental equity in the administration of its programs to the extent it may do so legally and practicably. The Illinois EPA supports the objectives of achieving environmental equity for all of the citizens of Illinois.

This document carries out that belief in written policy and provides specific parameters for the Illinois EPA’s bureaus, divisions and offices to implement the policy to reduce environmental inequities, and to prevent and reduce pollution overall.

The assumption of this policy is that it is evolutionary. Environmental Justice or EJ (also known as Environmental Equity or EE) policies and activities will continue to develop, as appropriate, through the normal course of the Illinois EPA’s regulatory and programmatic duties. Illinois EPA recognizes that this policy will not alone achieve environmental equity in all instances. Moreover, public and private commitment to the implementation of this policy is needed to achieve the goals of this policy and to promote environmental equity in this State.

Key goals of this policy are as follows:

  • to ensure that communities are not disproportionately impacted by degradation of the environment or receive a less than equitable share of environmental protection and benefits;
  • to strengthen the public's involvement in environmental decision-making, including permitting and regulation, and where practicable, enforcement matters;
  • to ensure that Illinois EPA personnel use a common approach to addressing EJ issues; and
  • to ensure that the Illinois EPA continues to refine its environmental justice strategy to ensure that it continues to protect the health of the citizens of Illinois and its environment, promotes environmental equity in the administration of its programs, and is responsive to the communities it serves.


The Illinois EPA defines the term "environmental justice " as follows:

"Environmental Justice" is based on the principle that all people should be protected from environmental pollution and have the right to a clean and healthy environment. Environmental justice is the protection of the health of the people of Illinois and its environment, equity in the administration of the State's environmental programs, and the provision of adequate opportunities for meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Elements Of The Policy

1. Defining Responsible Persons

The Illinois EPA will identify the persons responsible for coordinating various EJ activities, including an Illinois EPA EJ Officer responsible for coordinating all of the EJ activities for the Illinois EPA, and a work group including a representative from each of the Bureaus of Air (BOA), Water (BOW) and Land (BOL), the Division of Legal Counsel and the Office of Community Relations (collectively, IEPA EJ Work Group).

The EJ Officer shall have primary responsibility for coordinating all EJ efforts on the behalf of the Illinois EPA, acting as the spokesperson for the Illinois EPA on EJ, remaining current on all national developments on EJ, and coordinating, reviewing and signing off on responses to EJ complaints involving the Illinois EPA. The EJ Officer may review proposed permits, plans, and policies for consistency with this policy.

The EJ Officer is also the contact person for citizens and communities who believe their health or surrounding environment is at a significant risk. The EJ Officer will serve as a liaison between the citizen or community and the relevant Illinois EPA personnel to seek resolution of the action.

The EJ Officer will also facilitate and coordinate the continued development of the Illinois EPA's approach to EJ, addressing the areas of public notice and hearing process with respect to bilingual notice or any form of "special" notice or hearing, complaint response, permitting response, and planning and analysis. This approach should be developed based on separate analyses and recommendations developed by the BOA, BOW and BOL (collectively, the Bureaus), the Division of Legal Counsel, and the Office of Community Relations for these areas. The approach will include an analysis by the Illinois EPA of the tools it possesses to address EJ in these areas, and a list of employees who could be assigned to handle various tasks identified in its recommendations.

2. Defining EJ Activities

The EJ Officer will coordinate the following EJ activities on behalf of the Illinois EPA, with the advice of the IEPA EJ Work Group:

  • Arrangements for bilingual publication of notice, where appropriate, on proposed Illinois EPA permitting actions or informational hearings, or any form of "special" public notice;
  • Arrangements for bilingual or multi-lingual hearings, where appropriate, on proposed Illinois EPA permitting actions or informational hearings, or any form of "special" public hearings or meetings;
  • Response to public comments received on proposed permitting actions raising EJ concerns, including the preparation of environmental justice assessments as needed to support responses;
  • Response to EJ complaints challenging the Illinois EPA's permitting actions;
  • Response to EJ concerns raised about the Illinois EPA's enforcement program or a specific enforcement matter;
  • Response to EJ concerns raised in implementation of emissions trading programs (e.g., the BOA's Emission Reduction Market System or ERMS program;
  • Public participation to address or mitigate, if possible, EJ concerns, and
  • Response to general inquiries concerning EJ.

3. Preparing for Avenues of Entry for EJ Concerns or Inquiries

When an EJ issue or concern is raised or inquiry is made anywhere within the Illinois EPA, the EJ Officer will be promptly advised by e-mail and voice mail and will meet with the appropriate IEPA EJ Work Group member(s) to formulate the Illinois EPA's actions and responses.

EJ Policy

Once a response or action plan has been developed to address a specific inquiry or activity, the EJ Officer will assemble the IEPA EJ Work Group to review and comment on the proposed action plan. The EJ Officer will then revise the Action Plan as he/she deems appropriate and take the Action Plan to the Director or his or her designee for approval.

Approaches/Strategies To Address And Coordinate EJ Activities

1. Public Notice and Hearing and Receipt of Public Comments

Community Outreach

The Illinois EPA has developed and implemented a public participation strategy for permits, programs and actions in areas of EJ concern 1. The Illinois EPA's Office of Community Relations (Community Relations) works with host communities to identify and address environmental concerns regarding proposed facilities and projects of significant interest and to identify environmental issues affecting communities in Illinois prior to the permitting or action stage. After identifying environmental matters and any Illinois EPA actions of concern to communities, Community Relations holds regional meetings in and around the potentially affected communities. The number and scope of these meetings has varied from year to year depending on site activities and the level of community interest.

1 An area of EJ concern is a community with a low-income and/or minority population greater than twice the statewide average.

Community Relations is charged with the following tasks:

  • Preparing and Issuing Public Hearing Notices
  • Identifying Community Questions and Concerns
  • Preparing and Distributing Fact Sheets
  • Responding to Questions from the Public and the News Media
  • Establishing Local Repositories
  • Conducting Small Group Meetings
  • Assisting Illinois EPA Staff in preparing answers before public hearings
  • Assisting with Public Hearings
  • Preparing Responsiveness Summaries

The Illinois EPA has found that where it conducts a dialogue with interested and potentially affected citizens, the permit application process tends to function more smoothly for the applicant, the Illinois EPA, and the public. Many of the questions from the public seek information within the following categories: the permit process, the nature and operation of the facility, technical aspects of pollution control, legal requirements, and public input. Risks to public health and the environment, monitoring the facility's operation, and opposition to a proposed facility are issues that often involve the coordinated participation of other organizations in developing a response.

Community Relations has also developed "Mailing Lists of Interested and Potentially Affected Citizens." Individuals may request to be added to these lists or, based on prior contact, the Illinois EPA may add these individuals or groups to a list. These individuals or groups receive notices of hearings on regulations, permit applications, or any other significant Agency action likely to impact the community in which the individual lives, or in which the group has expressed an interest.

Small Group Meetings

For any permit action requiring public notice and for which the Illinois EPA receives a request for public hearing, Community Relations often holds "small group" or "living room" meetings in the affected community. Community Relations maintains a list of all "smaller" environmental groups (i.e., grass root organizations formed to address local environmental issues), and contacts the affected group(s) to participate in the small group meetings. (Note: This list generally contains between 120 and 180 organizations.) A smaller, more intimate forum is generally selected to hold these meetings, such as the mayor's office or the public library. This type of forum is selected because it encourages greater participation and candid dialogue, and more time can be spent addressing the issues of concern. Through these efforts, the Illinois EPA attempts to encourage public participation and awareness of environmental concerns and of Illinois EPA actions affecting local communities.

Informational Hearings

In addition, the State of Illinois has regulations that allow for public participation in the permitting process, beyond those hearings otherwise required by law or regulation. (See: 35 Ill. Adm. Code 166.) That category of hearings is termed "informational hearings"; i.e., a hearing that is not required by law to be held, but which is held for the purpose of informing the public of a proposed Illinois EPA action or when the Illinois EPA wishes to gather information or comments from the public prior to making a final decision on a matter. (See: 35 Ill. Adm. Code 166.120(b).) Under Illinois law, the Director of the Illinois EPA may determine whether the construction of an emission unit (or the revision to a permit for such a unit) is of public interest, and allow for public participation in the permitting process where such participation is not otherwise required. (See: 35 Ill. Adm. Code 252.102(a)(6) & (a)(8)). The criteria that the Director may consider in determining whether an emission unit is of public interest include:

  • The type of permit for which the application is made;
  • The nature and amount of pollutants that will be emitted by the source;
  • Possible effects of the emissions on health and the environment;
  • The location of the source;
  • The interest in the source exhibited by the public, based on comments and inquiries received by the Illinois EPA;
  • Other factors that are distinctive to the source; and
  • The proposed action by the Illinois EPA.

The public participation process includes: providing the public with notice of its intent to issue a permit; providing the public with a copy of the proposed permit and supporting documentation for comment; electing to hold a public hearing on the proposed permitting action without waiting for a request to do so in matters where a hearing is not statutorily required and providing for a written comment period following the hearing; and preparing a detailed responsiveness summary addressing all significant public comments on the proposed permitting action. (See: 35 Ill. Adm. Code 166)

Local Siting Approval

The State of Illinois is somewhat unique compared to many other states in that there is also a local siting approval process under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (Act) (415 ILCS 5/1 et seq.) for "Pollution Control Facilities" or "PCFs." PCFs include landfills, commercial incineration facilities, wastewater treatment plants, and similar waste treatment, storage or disposal facilities.

The local siting approval process requires that the developer of a new PCF demonstrate to the satisfaction of the governing body of a municipality or the county board of a county in which the proposed PCF is to be located that the project will meet nine specific criteria set forth in the statute. In addition, the application is subject to a public participation process that requires providing written notice of the application to certain adjacent property owners and members of Illinois' General Assembly from the legislative district in which the facility is to be located, and notice to the general public by newspaper publication. At least one public hearing must be held and any person may comment on the proposed facility. The decision of the governing body must be in writing, must state its bases and may be appealed to the Pollution Control Board. The Illinois EPA is not a participant in this process, other than to ensure that a project that is a new PCF has the requisite siting approval prior to the issuance of a construction or development permit. (See: 415 ILCS 5/39.2).

These efforts ensure that there is an appropriate level and quality of outreach for all significant new and existing Illinois EPA programs, regulations, permitting actions and community listening sessions.

Bi- and Multi-Lingual Efforts

As part of the Illinois EPA's EJ Policy, the EJ Officer will determine when public notices should be bi- or multi-lingual, where these notices should be published, and when translators should attend hearings. The EJ Officer will also review and approve the proposed response to EJ comments raised at hearing or in written comments, and coordinate this response among the Bureaus, Division of Legal Counsel and the Office of Community Relations.

Exploring New Avenues for Public Participation

Increased and alternative approaches to public participation are the areas in which most states are focusing their EJ efforts. The EJ Officer and the EJ Advisory Work Group will explore better opportunities for increased public participation in sensitive rulemakings and permitting actions. The EJ Officer and EJ Advisory Work Group will also explore opportunities for public participation in the resolution of enforcement actions.

2. Receipt of EJ Complaint

The Illinois EPA has developed, implemented and published an EJ Grievance Procedure. The EJ Grievance Procedure defines the procedural and substantive standards utilized by the Illinois EPA to evaluate EJ complaints. Specifically, the EJ Grievance Procedure provides a process for filing a timely complaint to the Illinois EPA and describes the process that is used to investigate and resolve the complaint. However, the procedures described therein do not apply to administrative actions that are being pursued in another forum (e.g., a permit appeal or a civil rights complaint filed with the United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Civil Rights).

3. Permitting Actions

When concern is expressed or identified regarding potential environmental impacts in an environmental justice area, the Illinois EPA will look at the information provided and other available information to assess whether there are potential significant adverse environmental impacts. If there are any such potential adverse impacts, the Illinois EPA will either request an assessment or assess these impacts using the information and tools reasonably available, and within the time constraints allowed by applicable state and federal law. The Illinois EPA will make such assessments available to the public and other affected persons or entities. An appropriate response will be made based on these assessments.

However, these assessments raise feasibility and resource issues. The Illinois EPA notes that the task of addressing EJ is exacerbated by the absence of a consensus on the validity of cumulative risk assessment tools and clear direction at the federal level. There are significant uncertainties regarding the availability and effectiveness of cumulative risk assessment tools, the availability of emissions data and emissions inventories, and these uncertainties increase as the scope of cumulative impact analysis increases. The availability of resources to make such assessments is also a major concern. However, the Illinois EPA will continue to commit appropriate staff time and other resources to become familiar with developments in risk assessment models and methodologies.

4. Training / Policy Handbook

The EJ Advisory Work Group will develop internal procedures for addressing EJ complaints, including specific concerns about permitting actions. The EJ Advisory Workgroup will also develop a policy handbook for distribution among Illinois EPA personnel to keep them apprised of developments in the Illinois EPA's EJ Policy.