2020 Environmental Real Estate Issues

In a May 5 news release, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the launching of a “comprehensive environmental justice strategy” and also announced issuance of “an Interim Final Rule that will restore the use of supplemental environmental projects in appropriate circumstances.”

DOJ Environmental Justice Memorandum
On the same day, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta issued the memorandum “Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy” as a result of President Biden’s directive that DOJ “ensure comprehensive attention to environmental justice throughout the Department of Justice” and “develop a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy, which shall seek to provide timely remedies for systemic environmental violations and contaminations, and injury to natural resources.” The memorandum will serve as a guide for DOJ “to advance the cause of environmental justice through the enforcement of federal laws.”

As part of the effort, DOJ created the first-ever “Office of Environmental Justice” within DOJ’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, naming Cynthia Ferguson as Acting Director.

Payments to Third Parties as Part of Supplemental Environmental Projects
DOJ’s announcement also references a memorandum issued May 5 by the Attorney General, “Guidelines and Limitations for Settlement Agreements involving Payments to Non-Governmental Third Parties.” This memorandum reverses a Trump administration position that settlements involving payments to non-governmental third parties violate the Miscellaneous Receipts Act.

Use these Tools in Settlements
Entities that face potential enforcement involving environmental justice concerns should be familiar with these documents. In settlement negotiations, it may be constructive to be proactive in identifying a supplemental environmental project that is consistent with these documents and that benefits an underserved community that may have been adversely affected.

For a link to the news release, which includes links to the other documents https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-launches-comprehensive-environmental-justice-strategy