Celebrating Climate Action and Environmental Justice at the State of the Union while Charting a Better Pathway Forward

While the Biden administration has made incredible progress on addressing both climate change and environmental justices, these crises require us to do more to live up to our obligations.

On Thursday, March 7, President Biden will give his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress. His speech is an important opportunity to reflect on the historic steps the President has taken to address climate change and environmental injustice. At the same time, the President will chart a path forward, recommitting to commonsense solutions by using the power of the law to keep our planet livable, protect the health of our communities, and counter injustice.

Here’s what we’re celebrating, and what we’d like to see from President Biden’s speech.

1. Building on the successes of historic legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)

Under President Biden’s leadership, Congress passed the largest climate investment in history — putting us on a path to meeting our climate goals, slashing pollution, and creating hundreds of thousands of new clean energy jobs while cleaning up the damaging situations polluting industries have left behind. The bill contained over $391 billion in climate investments that are already turbocharging clean energy production while helping clean up the air and water of communities that have long experienced the disparate impacts of pollution. Thanks to these transformative advancements, communities all over the country — regardless of race, income level, or political affiliation — are feeling its impact. Numerous companies are investing in long overlooked towns and cities and on-shoring clean energy manufacturing and production. Communities experiencing unsafe levels of air pollution are installing life-saving air monitoring equipment, giving them the data they need to fight for change. In parts of the country, students are riding to school in electric buses without having to worry about toxic diesel pollution. All while historic investments are helping to eliminate lead pipes that have poisoned our drinking water for decades and making our families sick. We need the Biden administration to continue working hard to fully realize the impacts of legislation like the IRA through its implementation by quickly disbursing the funds and ensuring they are directed to the places and communities most in need.

2. Continuing and expanding efforts to address environmental injustice

The Biden administration has made historic progress in addressing and remedying environmental justice issues. In April 2023, the administration issued a historic executive order to protect overburdened communities — particularly communities of color — from pollution, confront barriers to participation in environmental reviews, and embed environmental justice into decision-making processes across federal agencies. President Biden is the first president who has looked at the overwhelming data detailing how communities of color experience cancer, asthma, heart disease, and countless other illnesses at drastically higher rates due to the pollutants in their environment and decided to address the matter head-on. This was the first executive action that mandated an all-of-government approach to addressing environmental injustice, making concrete changes to federal decision-making that bring frontline communities to help make decisions. But President Biden did not stop there. Through the Justice40 initiative, the administration is ensuring that funding opportunities — like those in the Inflation Reduction Act — are flowing to environmental justice communities, concretely addressing harms done and ensuring that communities are not left behind in the clean energy transition. Most recently, the administration has gone toe-to-toe with the fossil fuel industry by enacting a historic pause on approvals for new liquified natural gas (LNG) export projects while the government improves the process to evaluate their harms and determine whether they are actually in the public interest, as had been determined in the past. The pause and the improved considerations address a major pollution source for numerous communities-particularly in the Gulf. We need the administration to keep up the work and ensure that the improved methods to determine the public interest accurately reflect the harms done by polluting industries while prioritizing the needs of frontline communities.

3. Finalize strong rules to protect the environmental and public health.

The Biden administration has made big strides toward finalizing important protections that will address the harms done by the deficient, industry-driven regulations from the previous administration. The rules that the Biden administration has spent years developing will reduce air pollution, ensure access to clean water, and protect our public lands from industry exploitation as we transition to cleaner infrastructure. The administration has already finalized a strong particulate matter standard to reduce air pollution and save thousands of lives from respiratory illnesses, but many rules still await finalization. We’re still awaiting final rules on important issues like vehicle emissions standards, permitting regulation, and mercury air toxics, among others. Earthjustice is monitoring the administration’s progress on these rules, and will continue pushing for the strongest rules possible.

Last year, in his State of the Union address, President Biden stated that climate was an ‘existential threat’ and that ‘we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to confront it.’ And while the Biden administration has made incredible progress on addressing both climate change and environmental justices, the crises we are in require us to do more to live up to that obligation. We will continue to partner with this administration, hold it accountable, and work with them on ensuring that this promise becomes a reality.

As Vice President of Policy and Legislation at Earthjustice, Raúl García leads a team of advocates who work with policymakers in Congress, federal agencies, and the White House to advance some of the most consequential policy issues around climate, environmental health, and biodiversity.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.

President Joe Biden speaks at the House Democrats Annual Issues Conference, Thursday, February 8, 2024, at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Virginia.
The Biden administration has taken historic steps to address climate change and environmental injustice. (Adam Schultz / White House)