President Biden has announced his run for office in 2024, and he isn’t wasting any time promoting his climate agenda. On April 21, he delivered a fundamental building block in the fight to ensure environmental justice for all Americans.
In an executive order, Biden declared a new Office of Environmental Justice positioned inside the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Federal agencies are now mandated to structure their policies through the prism of how toxic pollution and the climate crisis impact minority and Native communities. The president underscored, “Environmental justice will be the mission of the entire government.”
The White House press release highlighted monies for “critical services and infrastructure” had previously been severely lacking. It recognized the history of redlining and its contribution to the persistence of racial discrimination.” Along with a push for unpolluted air and water comes the promise of better health outcomes and a reduction of asthma, cancers, and respiratory diseases.
The new executive order is titled, Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All. Outlined are strategies based on seven components:
- The reiteration that “environmental justice is central to the implementation of our bedrock civil rights and environmental laws.”
- Requiring all agencies to inform localities impacted by toxic emissions from a federal facility to be alerted, with a follow-up public meeting to brief residents on needed safety actions and potential risks.
- Building robust engagement with historically marginalized communities who previously had minimal input into federal assessments. An emphasis on the need to promote “Tribal consultation” and fostering of relationships between Indigenous nations.
- Implementing an Environmental Justice Subcommittee Expansion within the National Science and Technology Council, led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Launching a coordinated strategy to identify and ameliorate environmental justice “research gaps” and data.
- Expanding on the 2021 Executive Order 14008, the Biden administration will pull in a full range of government players under the guidance of an appointed Federal Chief Environmental Justice Officer. The objective is to ensure that the issue of universal environmental protections among overburdened communities is fully comprehended and addressed.
- An Environmental Scorecard will review and evaluate how well the individual federal agencies are fulfilling the mission of carrying out actions to implement “strategic plans” to further Environmental Justice.
- Agencies will release periodic scorecards to the public.
- A declared commitment to promote and advance the goals of Environment Justice “in ways that complement and deepen prior work.”
Democrats quickly praised the blueprints for actions to rectify past injustices. Rep. Raúl M.Grijalva (D-AZ), the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) issued a statement on the Executive Order. They wrote: “Today, the Biden administration is telling the millions of Americans living in environmental justice communities that they are finally being heard and heeded.”
They also referenced the previously introduced A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice For All Act, supported by over 300 environmental groups, including Moms Clean Air Force.
Republicans are supporting Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s move to nullify the climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act to the tune of $370 billion. Tax credits for buying electric vehicles, replacing fossil fuel-burning boilers with electric heat pumps, and solar and wind energy packages would be axed. They have also lined up to keep $30 billion worth of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry alive, while repealing the financial penalties for methane leakage in gas and oil infrastructure.
I reached out to Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, environmental activist and founder of Revitalization Strategies, for his thoughts on the Biden Administration’s announced policies. He wrote:
“In 1990, the Michigan Coalition planted the seeds of environmental equity in the federal government under the Bush-led EPA. Over three decades later, the Biden Administration has catapulted Environmental Justice to the highest levels of our federal government with the new White House Office of Environmental Justice.
The OEJ is needed now more than ever, as it will play a critical role in addressing the environmental injustices that still plague our country. The office will help focus and strengthen comprehensive policy development across the federal family, ensure equitable resource distribution to uplift our most vulnerable communities and enhance accountability.
My grandmother said, ‘When you know better, do better.’ Now is the time to embrace this moment’s amazing set of opportunities.”
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