By Chair Brenda Mallory
Happy Earth Day!
As the newly-confirmed Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), a White House agency that was created just months before the first Earth Day in 1970, I am proud to be joining President Biden’s team at a critical moment for our nation and our planet.
Today, at the Leaders Summit on Climate that he has convened, President Biden is rallying nations from around the globe to combat climate change and to harness the opportunities and potential of a clean energy future.
The President’s call to action to combat climate change is ambitious and urgent, but it is also in keeping with America’s long tradition of rising to meet environmental challenges that can seem daunting.
The CEQ was itself created as a response to environmental crises that shook the nation to its core. In the late 1960s, America’s rivers were so polluted that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught on fire. A catastrophic oil spill devastated California’s coastline. Smog and soot darkened city skylines and sickened children. Dangerous pesticides were killing wildlife and poisoning workers.
Over the last fifty years, CEQ – along with other federal agencies, state, tribal, and local governments, and private sector partners – has helped achieve extraordinary and undeniable improvements in the quality of the air, water, and environment that many Americans experience.
Though the term “environmental quality” is not in wide use anymore (overcome, to an extent, by a flood of jargon), it is a concept that deserves renewed attention in light of the environmental challenges of our time.
President Biden’s determination to combat climate change is rooted in a commitment to protecting and improving the quality of both our environment and our economy. Addressing climate change – in which CEQ is fully engaged – will not only preserve the livability of our communities, but unlock the nation’s clean energy potential and create millions of new jobs.
Likewise, the Biden-Harris Administration’s focus on environmental justice aims to address deep racial and economic disparities in environmental quality. While many Americans have experienced cleaner air and cleaner water in recent decades, inequitable laws and policies have driven more and more pollution into communities that live near the fencelines of industries, with communities of color, in particular, shouldering a disproportionate share of the pollution burden.
At CEQ, we are proudly helping lead the Administration’s work on environmental justice, including by helping form the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, leading the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, and working to ensure that the benefits of America’s clean energy future are reaching communities that have been left out for far too long.
Finally, a focus on environmental quality should guide the conservation and restoration of America’s lands, waters, and wildlife. President Biden has outlined a decade-long vision for the stewardship of nature that provides an opportunity to not only confront a worsening extinction crisis, but to create more opportunities for Americans to get outdoors and experience the wonders of nature. Building new parks in nature-deprived communities, conserving natural and cultural resources that reflect the full breadth of who we are as a people, rewarding the voluntary stewardship efforts of farmers and ranchers, and restoring the rivers and watersheds that purify our water: these are all actions that improve the quality of the environment in which we live, work, and play.
As the 12th confirmed Chair of CEQ, and as someone who has had the privilege of previously serving in government at both CEQ and at the Environmental Protection Agency, I am mindful of the history of this office and hold deep respect for the leaders who have come before me. The environmental problems we face today – from climate change and environmental injustice to the nature crisis – demand solutions and approaches that are unique to our time. But on this Earth Day, let us also reflect on and recommit to this simple and time-tested idea: that we can and must pursue environmental quality for the benefit of all people in this country.