Top DOJ Official Jeffrey Bossert Clark Unlawfully Abandoned Tool Long Used to Remedy Local Pollution and Pursue Environmental Justice
Trump Administration Expands to EPA Unlawful Decision to Block Use of Supplemental Environmental Projects
Boston, M.A. — The Surfrider Foundation has joined the Conservation Law Foundation in a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the unlawful prohibition of a tool through which polluters help remedy the effects of pollution in the communities they have harmed. The groups seek to set aside the DOJ’s rule — promulgated by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark — that wrongly concluded that Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) can no longer be included in pollution-related settlements of federal environmental enforcement actions.
The environmental advocacy groups are represented by Democracy Forward. The original complaint was filed in October in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The amended complaint was filed on December 15.
“Surfrider is pleased to join Democracy Forward and the Conservation Law Foundation in defending a critical tool for environmental justice,” said Staley Prom, Legal Associate for the Surfrider Foundation. “Our members, who are directly affected by water and air pollution, deserve to benefit from local projects that clean up the air they breathe and the water they recreate in.”
SEPs are effective law enforcement tools that allow polluters to help remedy the effects of pollution in the very communities they have harmed. For decades, SEPs have benefitted low-income communities and communities of color that suffer most from illegal pollution.
In response to the groups’ initial complaint, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Brightbill said that the EPA “has itself adopted the Department’s position in its approach to its own administrative settlements.” The EPA’s implementation of the DOJ’s unlawful memo extends the prohibition of SEPs to a larger universe of enforcement actions. The EPA has not, however, publicly released the policy identified by Brightbill.
“The Trump administration’s Department of Justice unlawfully prohibited the inclusion of projects that commit polluters to assist the communities they have harmed,” said Democracy Forward Managing Senior Counsel Travis Annatoyn. “Particularly because the EPA has quietly expanded the impact of this unlawful policy, we’re proud to have Surfrider join our suit to defend this important enforcement tool.”
The Surfrider Foundation works to protect clean water and healthy beaches for all people. Its members in the greater Chicago area — who frequently surf off the beaches of Lake Michigan near Chicago and Gary, Indiana — have benefited from dozens of SEPs in the region. One SEP, for instance, committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up the heavily industrialized Grand Calumet River, which flows through Gary and discharges into Lake Michigan. The DOJ and the EPA’s unlawful prohibition of SEPs prevents such projects from being included in future settlements.
The DOJ’s policy barring SEPs was laid out in a March 2020 memo written by the Trump’s administration’s Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, Jeffrey Bossert Clark. The Clark Memo’s arbitrary and unreasoned legal analysis violates the Administrative Procedure Act. This lawsuit seeks to set it aside.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
Conservation Law Foundation forges lasting solutions to environmental challenges for the people of New England. For 50 years, CLF has taken on powerful opponents who would pollute our air and water and squander our resources. Our deep local knowledge, legal acumen, and policy expertise make CLF a prime mover in building our clean energy future, countering climate change, and safeguarding our communities. We never give up and go home because we are home.
The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people, through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over one million supporters, activists and members, with more than 170 volunteer-led chapters and student clubs in the U.S., and more than 700 victories protecting our coasts. Learn more at surfrider.org.
Conservation Law Foundation
The Surfrider Foundation