On Friday, President Joe Biden unveiled new initiatives for environmental justice, including an executive order that, according to the White House, will make environmental justice a primary goal of government agencies.
At a White House Rose Garden signing ceremony just before Earth Day, Biden promised that “under this order, environmental justice will become the responsibility of every single federal agency – I mean, every single federal agency.”
“Every federal agency must consider the effects of environmental health on communities and work to mitigate those adverse effects,” he stated. The goal of the entire government will be environmental justice, and this goal will be integrated into how we operate with municipal, state, tribal, and territory governments.
The executive order, which will still be up to agencies to implement, will create a new Office of Environmental Justice inside the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Friday’s move comes as as many environmental justice groups have been frustrated at the administration’s recent approval of a major Alaska oil project. CNN also reported Friday that the Biden administration is planning to roll out aggressive new rules to regulate planet-warming pollution from natural gas power plants – a move that could face fierce legal challenges.
Friday’s move also took place as Biden is preparing to announce his reelection bid as soon as next week, CNN reported Thursday. During his last presidential campaign, he worked hard to court environmental justice activist groups.
Biden’s new order directs agencies to work more closely with impacted communities and improve “gaps” in scientific data to try to better tackle the impacts of pollution on people’s health, a White House official said. 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 his signature “Justice40” initiative, vowing to direct 40% of federal climate and clean funding from new legislation to disadvantaged communities. On Friday, three additional agencies – the Department of Commerce, the National Science Foundation and NASA – will also join the initiative.
Biden also took a swipe at Republicans in his speech, contrasting his action on environmental justice with the GOP’s policies.
During his remarks on Friday, the president detailed how he’s spent much of his tenure in office surveying damage from extreme weather events, calling the threat of climate change “an existential threat to our nation” and criticizing congressional Republicans for attempting to block his legislative priorities focused on climate.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, 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 US 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.”
“Imagine seeing all this happen – the wildfires, the storms, the floods – and doing nothing about it,” he continued. “Imagine taking all these clean energy jobs away from working class folks all across America. Imagine turning your back on all those moms and dads living in towns poisoned by pollution and telling them, ‘Sorry, you’re on your own.’ We can’t let that happen.”