Recent developments in environmental regulation signal a renewed focus on environmental justice. At the heart of this is the newly introduced Environmental Justice Report Tool for Air Quality Regulation 3, a compliance mechanism aimed at permit applicants in Colorado. Unveiled by the Air Quality Control Commission in May 2023 applicable to new and modified facilities beginning July 15, 2023, the tool seeks to bring environmental justice into the permitting process. But what are the implications for facilities in Colorado? Let's dig in.
The Environmental Justice Report Tool: An Overview
The Environmental Justice (EJ) Report Tool is a digital framework that assists air pollution permit applicants in crafting an EJ Summary. These summaries are mandated for all relevant permit applicants and must include information about the community where a facility operates. This is in line with the Disproportionately Impacted (DI) Community Permitting Rule that focuses on communities more prone to environmental pollution, which often includes people of color and low-income families.
Key Features of the Tool
The tool has the capability to:
Identify if a facility is located in a disproportionately impacted community.
Generate an EJ Report that includes most of the required information for an EJ Summary.
Provide data like Colorado EnviroScreen scores and relevant environmental, health, and sociodemographic indicators for a given census block group where a facility is located.
The tool comes with a user guide and a supplementary document— “Air Pollution Control Division Guidance for Incorporating Environmental Justice into Permitting”—that offers step-by-step guidelines for submitting an EJ Report as part of a complete EJ Summary.
Aerial or Satellite Imagery Requirement
Facilities are required to include an aerial or satellite image of their location as part of the complete EJ Summary. Google Maps, among other free online tools, can be employed to generate this image, and the image should be submitted to the designated email address.
Community Engagement and Outreach
While not legally mandated, community engagement is strongly encouraged under Air Quality Regulation 3. Any community engagement efforts must be documented and submitted along with the EJ Summary and/or permit application.
Submitting the EJ Summary
The submission process comprises two steps:
Required attachments, including the EJ Report and satellite image, should be sent via email.
A supplemental EJ Summary form must be filled out online.
Both these steps need to be completed to submit a comprehensive EJ Summary.
Timelines and Next Steps
Once the EJ Summary is submitted, it will be reviewed by the Air Pollution Control Division’s EJ Permitting Specialist. The facility will receive a letter of concurrence upon approval.
Dispersion Modeling Requirements
If the facility’s emission source requires a modeling determination (form APCD-114), this should be submitted concurrently with the EJ Summary.
Implications for Colorado Facilities
For facilities in Colorado, particularly those in or near disproportionately impacted communities, the EJ Report Tool means:
More stringent documentation requirements.
The need for proactive community engagement.
A likelihood of increased inspections and focused enforcement, given the recent MOU signed between the U.S. EPA Region 8 and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
The introduction of the Environmental Justice Report Tool for Air Quality Regulation 3 marks a significant policy shift. Facilities need to adapt to these changes, which involve more comprehensive documentation, potential community outreach, and a preparedness for greater regulatory scrutiny. In the broader context, it aligns well with the state's push for environmental justice, adding another layer to Colorado's multifaceted approach to environmental health and compliance.