Key Takeaways from Highly Attended October AWMA Specialty Conference on Environmental Justice

December 14th, 2023

Epsilon Associates environmental health scientist Sonja Sax, ScD and air quality engineer Ida Weiss attended and presented at the Air and Waste Management (AWMA) specialty conference Environmental Justice: From Policy to Practice, held recently in Arlington, Va. This important conference offered a venue for industry professionals to learn about and discuss scientific, technical, legal, and related policy issues relevant to environmental justice (EJ). 175 federal, state, industry and academic professionals attended the two-day event.

Dr. Sax and Ms. Weiss presented in the Cumulative Impacts and Health Assessment sessions. Dr. Sax discussed proposed new regulations in Massachusetts that will require conducting cumulative impacts analyses for certain new or existing projects and the potential permitting hurdles associated with these new EJ regulations. Ms. Weiss presented on Epsilon’s analyses of mobile source air impacts on EJ communities for projects under MEPA review and included several case studies based on consulting work in the last couple of years.

The conference included tracks on Engagement and Collaboration, Screening and Measurement, Cumulative Impacts and Health Assessment, and Permitting, Compliance and Enforcement. Plenary sessions included state and federal officials from DOE, EPA and CEQ, as well as industry and academia representatives. In assessing this influential conference, we offer the following nine takeaways:

  1. Outreach and community engagement is a critical component to any project new or old. This step should be conducted early, comprehensively and may need some thinking outside-the-box to fully engage and reach the right audience and set the right tone – especially in an EJ area that has historically been impacted by industry.

  2. Engagement at the state level is critical to ensure not only that the project satisfies the requirements of the EJ regulations, but also to assess whether the project proponent needs to take further actions to ensure “no adverse or disproportionate impact” on surrounding EJ communities.

  3. Many states are not waiting for federal guidance and regulations, but rather are already implementing state-level regulations. EPA is working on tools , guidance, and regulations – but these are slow to be finalized. There is ongoing debate on and interest in the community benefit outcomes from prescriptive EJ processes (such as those in New Jersey and California) compared with states without state EJ requirements.

  4. While a change in administration in Washington DC might have an impact on EJ regulatory initiatives at the federal level, it may have little impact on state-level regulatory initiatives. Both federal and state-level regulators are closely considering the impact of Supreme Court cases and administration changes in the language of proposed EJ legislation and demographic criteria used to identify EJ communities. For example, whether race should be considered an indicator for identifying EJ communities.

  5. Each state implementing its own EJ regulations has its own EJ definitions and criteria; its own tools and specific regulations/requirements. Changes and updates are naturally also state-specific. If projects cross multiple states, or if project timelines extend over several years, it may be a challenge to ensure that the project is complying with each state and specific state regulations.

  6. There is a lot of funding available for EJ initiatives at both the federal and state levels, but access is difficult, and it is unclear if funding information is reaching the people that need it the most. Grant writing is onerous, and under-funded groups often do not have resources to access or acquire the funds.

  7. Many tools are available at both the federal and state-level, and several presentations introduced them, their advantages and disadvantages, and common challenges encountered when trying to use them for a specific project.

  8. Cumulative impacts regulations, tools, assessments, and how to conduct analyses was a major topic of discussion across sessions and presentations. The concepts are not new, but clear guidance is still lacking. Regardless, states are implementing requirements and successful permitting will hinge on whether these analyses meet those requirements.

  9. Where regulation does not advance EJ goals for a particular project or location, EPA and state agencies are often turning to enforcement to block project permits or to force closure of industrial facilities. Key examples highlighted at the conference included recent cases in Louisiana’s so called “cancer alley.”

Epsilon’s Air Quality team guides clients through the rapidly changing landscape of EJ-related regulatory requirements, including obtaining approvals for new development and helping existing facilities ensure compliance. We work across disciplines with developers, engineers, and operations staff to provide seamless environmental support. Please contact us to learn more and discuss your specific situation, need, or concern.

About the Experts:

Sonja Sax, Sc.D, is an environmental health scientist in Epsilon’s Air Quality Group. Dr. Sax specializes in evaluating exposure and health risk from environmental pollutants. She has over 20 years of experience in environmental regulatory assessment, health impact assessment and cost-benefit analyses. She has managed large multi-year projects advocating for clients involved in litigation or providing permitting support. She has performed indoor and outdoor air quality investigations evaluating exposures and health impacts of airborne gases and particles. She also served as a consultant to the US EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee for the particulate matter and ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. More recently she has worked on projects of all sizes conducting Environmental Justice analysis, modeling of air quality impacts and providing guidance to clients on the best approaches for addressing new EJ regulations in multiple states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey.



Ida Weiss is a Project Engineer in Epsilon’s Air Quality group. She has modeled emissions from proposed projects across the Northeast from both mobile and stationary sources. Ms. Weiss writes environmental justice analyses to evaluate project impacts on EJ populations. She also prepares mesoscale analyses for projects with considerable traffic and uses her knowledge of GIS, Python, and Excel to support the Planning, Air, Ecological Sciences/Wetlands, and GIS groups at Epsilon.



Return to News