President Biden announces new environmental justice initiatives

President Joe Biden announced new environmental justice initiatives last Friday, aimed at helping disadvantaged communities protect against disproportionate environmental pollution.
The order directs federal agencies to prioritize issues of environmental justice, the latest in a series of steps from the administration as it seeks to deliver on its goal of achieving net-zero carbon emission by 2050.
It also “makes clear that the pursuit of environmental justice is a duty of all executive branch agencies and should be incorporated into their missions,” the White House said in a fact sheet.
Among other things, federal agencies will be required to prevent adverse environmental and health impacts on certain communities and are called on to “actively facilitate meaningful public participation and equal treatment.”
“Under this order, environmental justice will become the responsibility of every single federal agency,” Biden said. “Environmental Justice will be the mission of the entire government, woven directly into how we work with state, local, tribal and territorial governments.”
This order comes as many environmental justice groups have been frustrated at the administration’s recent approval of a major Alaska oil project. It has been reported that the administration is planning to roll out new rules to regulate planet-warming pollution from natural gas power plants –– a move that could face legal challenges.
The executive order alludes to racial discrimination in environmental policy, citing issues such as pollution that have created disproportionate outcomes, which drew the displeasure from conservative groups.
“During this period of historic inflation, high gas prices, and burdensome energy costs, it is time to recommit to unleashing American domestic energy reserves, not imply that traditional energy is racist,” said Alfredo Ortiz, the CEO of Job Creators Network.
Biden’s new order directs agencies to work closely with impacted communities and improve “gaps” in scientific data to try to tackle the impacts of pollution on people’s health, said a White House official. If toxic substances were released from a federal facility in the future, the order requires federal agencies to notify nearby communities.
The order comes a few years after Biden announced the “Justice40” initiative, vowing to direct 40% of federal climate and clean funding from new legislation to disadvantaged communities. The Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation will also join the initiative.
Biden has made a commitment to environmental justice since his inauguration in 2021 with initiatives including Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration and the creation of the Climate Change Support Office.
“In two years, we’re making real progress in the most ambitious environmental justice agenda in history,” Biden said at the White House before signing the order.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently unveiled provisions in his debt limit proposal that would overturn clean energy tax credits passed in the Inflation Reduction Act last year. The proposal also includes HR 1: the GOP’s version of an energy permitting bill.
Republicans, Biden argued, would “rather threaten to default on the U.S. economy, or get rid of some $30 billion in taxpayer subsidies … than getting rid of $30 billion in taxpayer subsidies to an oil industry that made $200 billion last year.”
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have set up a hearing to argue that the process of subsidizing clean energy and electric vehicles threatens human rights and national security. The committee members describe Biden’s targets for wind and solar growth along with electric vehicle adoption as unrealistic, arguing that diversifying the nation’s energy mix will create a more reliable and secure system.
A CBS News YouGov survey conducted earlier this month found that roughly two-thirds of respondents want climate change addressed in the coming years. While 91% of Democrats agreed, only 44% of Republicans did. Republicans were also more likely to see efforts to reduce climate change as something that would hurt the economy.
Those complaints have not seemed to slow Biden, who pitched the move as a way to create a more just nation.
“Yes, we’re determined to strengthen the ambitions –– our ambitions and actions,” he said Friday. “And yes, we will include communities that have been denied basic security, basic dignity that comes from clean air –– having clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs and environmental justice.”