The U.S. EPA and environmental justice implications in cannabis
This Black History Month, let’s talk about environmental justice and its implications for the cannabis industry. In 1970 President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), via executive order EPA Order 1110.2, to permit coordinated and effective government action on behalf of the environment. The EPA serves as an umbrella agency to regulate environmental laws and policy ensuring industrial operations don’t cause undue harm to human health and the environment. Through this umbrella agency, environmental policy is legislated, regulated, inspected, and enforced within 4 key tenets:
- Air and Radiation
- Pesticides and Toxic Substances
- Solid Waste and Emergency Response
In the late 1960s, an abundance of environmental complaints were reported in areas of lower socio-economic communities, largely populated by black and brown people. In 1968 the Environmental Justice movement began with the Memphis Sanitation Strike and was championed by individuals who sought to address the inequity of environmental protection within urban communities.
Prior to EPA, regulations for manufacturer operating distance from neighborhoods, waterways, schools and communities were non-existent; which led to an increased risk of exposure to poor air quality from industrial processes, forcing chronic inhalation of harmful chemical compounds by local citizens. Additionally, residents were exposed to harmful chemicals in their drinking water due to no regulation on waste disposal. Amidst national growing concern, the EPA launched the Environmental Equity Workgroup in 1990. By 1992 EPA established the Office of Environmental Equity; known today as the Office of Environmental Justice.
Today, federal cannabis prohibition has prevented EPA promulgation of cannabis industry-specific best practices thereby, increasing the risk of non-compliance. While state-specific guidance is available in several states, it is not always clear which rules apply to specific cannabis processes and operations. As a result of this ambiguity, several operators have become aware of their environmental liabilities only after costly incidents, violations, and fines.
In June of 2021, a California extraction facility pled guilty to transporting hazardous materials simply because they did not have the right permits and documents completed. Later that month, a processing facility in Massachusetts received citations in excess of $17,000 for:
- Air emission violations/ not having a permit for volatile organic compounds
- No permit/ certification for diesel-powered backup emergency generators
- No permit/ approval to operate an industrial wastewater holding tank
- Generating hazardous waste without a permit
- No labels on the hazardous waste satellite accumulation area
Equity should not be used exclusively to describe representation and financial availability for people of color in the cannabis industry; but also in everyone’s right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and exist in a society without concern for unknown potential health effects. As leaders in cannabis, it is our responsibility to build a wholly equitable and compliant industry.
When looking at how best to protect your human capital and financial risk, remember that environmental compliance is a necessary component; incidents can be prevented and risks can be mitigated.
Not sure where to start? Contact Delta Compliance for your free consultation and let the experts guide you through the intricacies and requirements of environmental compliance and permitting.
Talya Mayfield is the CEO and Principal consultant for Delta Compliance Consulting. Talya has a B.S. in Biology, an M.S. in Industrial Engineering Management, and a Certificate in Lean Six Sigma.
She spent 8 years in cement manufacturing and hazardous waste working on a range of environmental compliance requirements, from improving safety and employee exposure, to hazardous material management and disposal permitting.
She has now merged this expertise with her love of all things cannabis, and launched Delta Compliance Consulting to help cannabis operators run safe, compliant and successful facilities.