President Biden and Vice President Harris have made it a priority to ensure that all individuals have access to clean air, water, and healthy communities. To that end, President Biden has signed an executive order further embedding environmental justice into the work of federal agencies.
The order is part of the administration’s whole-of-government effort to confront long-standing environmental injustices and inequities. Communities across the country have suffered from toxic pollution, underinvestment in infrastructure, and other environmental harms, which are often the result of a legacy of racial discrimination. The order is intended to ensure that everyone, regardless of race, background, income, ability, Tribal affiliation, or zip code, can benefit from the protections contained in the United States’ foundational environmental and civil rights laws. The order also promotes good-paying clean energy jobs, lower costs, meeting climate goals, advancing environmental justice and conservation, and strengthening communities that were previously left behind or excluded.
The executive order, titled Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All, takes several steps to achieve its goals including the respect and elevation of Indigenous Knowledge, capacity building, and further expansion of the Justice40 initiative. It deepens the administration’s commitment to environmental justice, making it clear that it is a duty of all executive branch agencies and should be incorporated into their missions. It also directs agencies to consider measures to address and prevent disproportionate and adverse environmental and health impacts on communities, including the cumulative impacts of pollution and other burdens like climate change.
The order also promotes inter-agency coordination and launches a new Office of Environmental Justice within the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This office will coordinate the implementation of environmental justice policy across the federal government, ensuring that federal efforts can evolve alongside our understanding of environmental justice. Additionally, it pushes federal agencies with conducting new assessments of their environmental justice efforts and developing, implementing, and periodically updating an environmental justice strategic plan. These plans will be made public on a regular basis, including through the Environmental Justice Scorecard, a new government-wide assessment of federal agencies’ efforts to advance environmental justice.
The executive order also promotes engagement with communities and the just treatment of all people in agency decision-making. It addresses the importance of Tribal consultation and coordination, including strengthening nation-to-nation relationships on issues involving environmental justice. Similarly, it honors and builds on the foundation of ongoing environmental justice work, with a simplified phrase, “disproportionate and adverse,” replacing “disproportionately high and adverse” used in Executive Order 12898.
Overall, the Executive Order reflects the values, goals, and recommendations of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC). The President’s goal is to modernize and improve how the federal government confronts environmental injustice to address the needs of present and future generations.