Environmental Justice (EJ) Policy

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Introduction

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) is committed to protecting the environment and the health of the residents of Illinois, and to promoting environmental equity in the administration of its programs. 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.

EJ policies and activities will continue to be developed through the normal course of the Illinois EPA's regulatory and programmatic duties. Illinois EPA recognizes that this policy alone will not achieve environmental equity. 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:

  • 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 in permitting and regulation, and where practicable, enforcement matters;
  • to ensure that Illinois EPA personnel develop common practices when implementing EJ concepts into Agency programs; and
  • to ensure that the Illinois EPA continues to evaluate and adapt its EJ strategy to safeguard the environment and the health of the residents of Illinois, promote environmental equity in the administration of its programs, and be responsive to the communities it serves.

Definition

The Illinois EPA defines EJ 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:

  • Protecting the environment of Illinois and the health of its residents
  • Equity in the administration of the State's environmental programs
  • 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. Responsibilities of the Office of EJ

The Office of Environmental Justice has the primary responsibility for coordinating all EJ efforts on behalf of the Illinois EPA. This includes acting as the liaison 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 in accordance with the Illinois EPA EJ Grievance Procedure.  The EJ Coordinator may review the following elements for consistency with this policy:

  • Outreach strategies
  • Permits
  • Plans
  • Rulemaking
  • Enforcement

The EJ Coordinator is the contact person for members of the public, community leaders and EJ groups who believe their health or surrounding environment is at risk. The EJ Coordinator will serve as a liaison between the member of the public, community leaders and EJ groups, and the relevant Illinois EPA personnel concerning an Agency action or potential action.

The EJ Coordinator will also facilitate and coordinate the continued development of the Illinois EPA's approach to EJ. This includes assisting the Office of Community Relations with public outreach, responding to complaints, inquiries regarding permitting, and coordinating plans to address EJ throughout the agency. The EJ Coordinator will also review the proposed response to EJ comments raised at a hearing or in written comments, and coordinate this response among the Bureaus, Division of Legal Counsel, and the Office of Community Relations.

2. Scope of EJ Activities

The EJ Coordinator will coordinate the following EJ activities on behalf of the Illinois EPA:

  • Conduct enhanced public outreach in areas of EJ concern*; 
  • Respond to general inquiries concerning EJ;
  • Respond to public comments received on proposed permitting actions raising EJ concerns;
  • Respond to EJ questions concerning the Illinois EPA's enforcement program or a specific enforcement matter;
  • Assist and enforce rulemaking activities that involve areas of EJ concern.
*The Illinois IEPA defines "area of EJ concern" as a census block group with a low-income and/or minority population greater than twice the statewide average. The Agency uses a geographic information system (GIS) mapping tool called EJ Start to determine where areas of EJ concern are within the state. When a permitting action or other issue arises in an area of EJ concern, the Illinois EPA conducts enhanced public outreach.


3. Managing EJ Concerns or Inquiries

When an Illinois EPA staff person receives an EJ inquiry or concern, they should promptly brief the EJ Coordinator. The EJ Coordinator will meet with the appropriate Illinois EPA staff to formulate the Agency's actions and responses. Once they have met with the appropriate Illinois EPA staff, the EJ Coordinator will apprise the initial inquirer(s) of the determined actions and responses such as an inspection or referral to another agency if activity is not regulated by the Illinois EPA.

Strategies to Implement EJ Activities

1. Environmental Justice (EJ) Notification Process

The Office of Environmental Justice utilizes EJ Notifications to reach out to people located in areas of EJ concern and their corresponding advocacy groups/ and local government officials to notify them of a permit application in their area.   Upon receiving a permit application, the permit reviewer will check the EJ Start mapping tool to determine if the site is in an area of EJ concern. If it is, they will submit a review request through the Illinois EPA EJ Tracking system to be reviewed by the EJ staff. EJ staff then determines whether to draft an EJ notification letter, which is the first step in conducting enhanced public outreach.  The decision whether to draft an EJ notification letter is based on the type of facility, nature of the permit transaction, past interest in the facility, and any other relevant factors.
If the EJ Staff decides that enhanced public outreach is necessary, they will compose a letter based on information provided by the permit reviewer that contains the following information:

  • Facility name
  • Facility address
  • The Bureau ID number
  • The permit application reference number
  • A short summary of the project
  • Public notice details if the permit is subject to state or federal public notice requirements
  • EJ Coordinator's contact information

Illinois EPA sends the EJ Notification Letter to elected officials (federal, state, county, and local), community groups, and individuals who request to be notified. Some people opt to receive notifications for the entire state, while others want only notifications for certain areas such as zip codes, cities, and counties. If an individual, elected official, or community group has a follow up question or concern or wants to request a public hearing or meeting, they may contact the EJ Coordinator. The Office of EJ has an online sign-up form for EJ Notification Letters located at: https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/environmental-justice/Pages/EJ-Notice-Sign-up.aspx.

More information about this process can be found in Illinois EPA's EJ Notification Infographic and Public Participation Policy.


2. Public Notices, Meetings, and Hearing and Local Siting Approval

Community Outreach

The Illinois EPA has developed and implemented the EJ Public Participation Policy (https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/environmental-justice/Documents/public-participation-policy.pdf) for permits, programs, and actions in areas of EJ concern. The Illinois EPA's Office of Community Relations (Community Relations) works in conjunction with the EJ staff and communities to identify and address environmental concerns regarding proposed facilities and projects of significant interest. Together, Community Relations and EJ staff also preemptively identify environmental issues affecting areas of EJ concern in Illinois prior to the permitting or action stage. The Agency may hold meetings or hearings in the potentially affected communities.

Community Relations is charged with the following tasks:

  • Preparing and issuing public hearing and meeting notices
  • Identifying community questions and concerns
  • Preparing and distributing fact sheets
  • Responding to questions from the public
  • Establishing local repositories containing documents such as the permit application
  • Conducting small group meetings
  • Conducting public hearings
  • Arranging bilingual publication of public notices or other materials, where appropriate
  • Arranging bilingual or multi-lingual hearings, where appropriate
  • Working with other Agency staff to prepare Responsiveness Summaries following public hearings

The Illinois EPA has found that when it conducts a dialogue with interested and potentially affected communities, the permit application process runs more smoothly for the applicant, the Illinois EPA, and the public.

Often, the public seeks information within the following categories:

  • permit process
  •  nature and operation of the facility
  • technical aspects of pollution control
  • applicable legal requirements
  • opportunities for public input to influence outcomes
  • risks to public health and the environment
  • monitoring of facility's operation
  • enforcement of alleged violations
  • translation of information in preferred language

Community Relations and the Office of Environmental Justice maintain contact lists of interested individuals, community leaders and organized groups. Individuals may request to be added to distribution lists or, based on prior contact and interest, the Illinois EPA may add these individuals or groups to a distribution 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. For individuals in areas of EJ concern, individuals or groups may also receive EJ notification letters regarding permitting actions at the Agency.

Public Meetings

For permits or other actions that garner significant public interest and do not require a formal hearing, the Illinois EPA will often hold a public meeting. The purpose of these meetings is to open a dialogue with the affected community regarding the specific permit or action. This type of forum encourages greater participation and informal dialogue and more time can be spent addressing the issues of concern. Through these efforts, the Illinois EPA attempts to encourage public participation and help bring awareness of environmental concerns. In situations where a public meeting cannot be held in person, Illinois EPA will use virtual video meeting tools to provide a dialogue with the affected community.

Public Hearings

The Illinois EPA holds public hearings for permitting actions or other actions and must follow specific requirements (See: 35 Ill. Adm. Code 166 for permit hearing requirements and 35 Ill. Adm. Code 164 for non-permit action hearing requirements). The purpose of a public hearing is to receive oral comments from the public to be transcribed into a written record by a court reporter. Written comments may be submitted throughout a notice and comment period. Laws and regulations for certain permits require a public hearing to be offered to the public. If significant public interest is expressed regarding a facility applying for a permit, a hearing may be held regarding a permit or other action at the discretion of the Director, even if the permit or action would not usually require one. For example, 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; 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

For "Pollution Control Facilities" or "PCFs" the State of Illinois  requires a local siting approval process under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (Act) (415 ILCS 5/1 et seq.) 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 state legislators from the district in which the facility is to be located as well as notice to the general public by newspaper publication. At least one public hearing must be held by the local governing body, and any person may comment on the proposed facility. The decision of the governing body must be in writing, must state its basis, and may be appealed to the Illinois 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).  Please note that the City of Chicago is exempt from the local siting requirements.

Language Accessibility

As part of the Illinois EPA's EJ Policy, the Office of Community Relations and the EJ Coordinator will determine when public notices should be translated into other languages, where these notices should be published, and when translators should attend meetings and hearings.

Any questions or requests for translation services should be directed to the EJ Coordinator. 

Formal EJ Complaints

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 allegations of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, income, age, or gender. 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).