California Has a New Bureau of Environmental Justice

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photo: AP
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photo: AP

There’s a new bureau in town, and it’s all about environmental justice.

On Thursday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra established the Bureau of Environmental Justice, a four-attorney team whose sole focus will be protecting the low-income and communities of color who suffer disproportionately from pollution. How will they do this, you ask? “Oversight, investigation, and enforcement,” according to the attorney general’s office. The new bureau will report to the state’s Department of Justice.


“The harsh reality is that some communities in California—particularly low-income communities and communities of color—continue to bear the brunt of pollution from industrial development, poor land use decisions, transportation, and trade corridors,” Becerra said in a statement. “Meeting the needs of these communities requires our focused attention.”

While this isn’t the first time a state has taken explicit steps to better integrate the concept of environmental justice into its agenda, it does appear to be the first time a state’s Justice Department has taken a strong stance on this kind of environmental protection.

This new force will focus on enforcing the California Environmental Quality Act, cleaning up contaminated drinking water, eliminating or reducing lead exposure, penalizing polluters that illegally release pollutants into the air and water of disenfranchised communities, and standing up to any federal actions that put communities at risk.

“Far too many families in California suffer from both poverty and pollution. In fact, they usually go hand in hand,” Green for All Director Vien Truong said in a statement. “Families across the state will breathe a sigh of relief with the promise of justice and accountability for polluters.”

The attorney general has already made that last goal clear in the dozens of lawsuits he’s filed against the Trump administration. Many include challenges to environmental repeals from the Environmental Protection Agency—like those on fracking and water supplies—which would have dangerous implications on communities already overwhelmed by pollution from industrial facilities. With this new bureau, he’ll have a team of attorneys dedicated to this effort. The attorneys have not yet been hired, but the supervising deputy attorney general is set to start working on the agenda next week, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.