Today, the Equitable and Just National Climate Forum, the New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center, and the Center for American Progress, along with environmental justice (EJ) advocates and academic experts and national environmental groups, released a set of recommendations for how the Biden-Harris administration can effectively implement their commitment to delivering 40% of climate investment benefits to disadvantaged communities. President Joe Biden’s January 27 executive order 14008 on climate change established this goal, referred to as Justice40, and the infrastructure within the executive branch to implement it. The participants recommended that the administration achieve this vital goal with actions in six areas:
- Identifying and mapping EJ and other disadvantaged communities by improving the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) EJSCREEN tool to include CalEnviroScreen’s pollution burden and exposure, health, and socioeconomic indicators, and establishing a tiered approach to prioritizing investment benefits to the communities that need them most. This would allow the administration to immediately target investment benefits to EJ communities as it works to develop a new Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, as directed by President Biden.
- Establishing an effective, accessible, and inclusive stakeholder engagement process with clear goals and frequent consultation that allows EJ advocates to speak for themselves.
- Identifying and addressing critical service gaps in energy, transportation, housing, economic and workforce development, water, and healthy communities and climate-resilient infrastructure through an inclusive process.
- Providing clear program criteria that maximize federal investment benefits and avoid harm in EJ communities. All federal agency programs should have criteria that address pollution, climate change, and the potential for new development to price people out of their communities. These safeguards are critical to ensuring that federal investments measurably improve the lives of people in communities historically overburdened by pollution and economic and racial injustice.
- Improving existing federal programs and creating new ones to expand access to renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements for low-income communities and communities of color; increase the size of EPA EJ grants; establish a National Environmental Justice and Climate Justice Fund; and invest in climate education, leadership development, and job training.
- Ensuring accountability by charging White House and Cabinet-level leaders with implementing the Justice40 Initiative, hiring EJ experts in the White House and federal agencies, and publicly tracking federal investments and benefits delivered. Justice40 implementation should be embedded within federal agencies.
“We are excited to see the Biden administration’s commitment to environmental justice. These recommendations will help turn words into investments in the communities that need them most,” said Dr. Ana Baptista of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and the Tishman Environment and Design Center at the New School. “Environmental justice communities across the nation are bearing the brunt of health-harming pollution, the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, and the climate crisis. It’s time that the federal government took ambitious action to correct this legacy of injustice.”
“The Justice40 Initiative has the potential to deliver positive benefits to environmental justice communities. However, we must all work very hard to ensure that these benefits are tangible and that they go to the communities that need them the most,” said Dr. Nicky Sheats, chair of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance.
“President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative sets America on a course to correcting persistent environmental and economic injustice,” said John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress. “The administration must make good on its promise to invest in legacy pollution cleanup, pollution-free energy and transportation, and quality and affordable housing and health care in communities that need it the most. These Justice40 recommendations aim to help the administration confront systemic racism and inequalities that have left communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities exposed to the highest levels of toxic pollution, most burdened and affected by climate change, and most at risk of being left out of the transition away from fossil fuels to a clean and pollution-free energy economy.”
These recommendations were developed at two convenings with EJ advocates and national environmental groups who participate in the Equitable and Just National Climate Forum, along with EJ academic experts.