Today, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Brenda Mallory delivered virtual closing remarks during the Michigan Department of Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) first-ever Michigan Environmental Justice Conference, “Rebuilding Trust, Reimagining Justice and Removing Barriers.”
Chair Mallory’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
Good afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me to join you all today.
I am thrilled to be a part of Michigan’s first-ever environmental justice conference.
As you just heard, I’m Brenda Mallory, and I am the 12th Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
I’m tremendously honored to take on this role in an Administration that is prioritizing environmental justice and climate action.
I’m so glad you all were able to hear from my friend and colleague EPA Administrator Michael Regan earlier this week.
It has been such a joy and privilege to work with Administrator Regan on a whole host of issues, including Environmental Justice.
Before I get into specifics about what we are doing in the Biden Administration, I want to talk first about how we got here.
It’s especially fitting to take a quick look at our past since Dr. Robert Bullard, the father of environmental justice, spoke to you all yesterday.
Dr. Bullard and other environmental justice activists have been raising alarm bells for decades— that pollution disproportionately impacts black and brown communities.
And we have been painfully reminded of this truth during the pandemic, with Black Americans disproportionately dying at a higher rate from COVID-19, in part because of higher rates of long-term exposure to air pollution.
These experts, like Dr. Bullard, have devoted their lives to moving environmental justice to the forefront of policy.
And for that, I say thank you.
One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes is:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”
We know better – It’s long past time to do better.
At the White House, we hope to honor the work of the leaders and advocates who came before us by incorporating equity for overburdened and underserved communities throughout the administration’s policy initiatives.
President Biden’s approach to environmental justice is guided by a couple of his core beliefs:
First, that every single person has a fundamental right to drink clean water, and to breathe clean air.
And second, that for too many people, we have failed to deliver those basic protections.
During his campaign, President Biden conducted listening sessions with environmental justice leaders from around the country to hear from experts on equitable policy solutions a future Biden administration could implement.
Correcting these historic wrongs will require a long-term commitment, but acknowledging a need for change is a critical first step.
That’s why President Biden created the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, made up of 26 long-time environmental justice advocates and experts, like Dr. Bullard.
Over the course of two months, this Advisory Council has held three public meetings and devoted countless hours developing recommendations to support the Federal government’s efforts to address current and historic environmental injustices.
And now, we are actively reviewing these recommendations.
This is one part of a multi-step process by the Biden administration to implement a whole-of-government strategy to environmental justice.
Importantly, these recommendations reiterate how vital community and stakeholder engagement, and input are to President Biden and Vice President Harris as we develop equitable climate policies.
In this administration, we know that we must take a holistic look at the impacts of our policy choices.
Because of this, the President has also established the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council.
I am honored to Chair this effort and to have such strong Environmental Justice partners as the heads of agencies, like Administrator Regan at EPA, Secretary Deb Haaland at the Department of Interior, and Secretary Pete at the Department of Transportation.
But it doesn’t stop there.
My team at CEQ is working with every single agency to take a whole-of-government approach to pursue environmental justice while addressing climate change.
We are developing a Climate and Economic Justice Screening tool.
This will help us identify and target the communities most in need, and it will inform equitable decision making across the federal government.
Additionally, President Biden has set the goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments in clean energy and infrastructure to historically disadvantaged communities.
We are calling this the Justice40 initiative.
Now, if many of the initiatives I’ve spoken about today, like the Advisory Council and the screening tool, sound familiar, that’s because state and local leaders have helped show us the way.
We don’t have to look any further than your Governor.
Governor Whitmer has been leading the way here in the Great Lake State, through her executive order two years ago that created an Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team.
Much like President Biden has done for the federal government, Governor Whitmer set a vision and direction for her administration that prioritizes addressing environmental injustice.
As you know, the Whitmer administration created the state’s first EJ advisory council, the Michigan Council on Environmental Justice.
And I know that many folks here today are in the process of developing the state’s first environmental justice screening tool.
While there is no doubt that it is a busy time for the Biden Administration and CEQ.
We are grateful that states, like Michigan, have Governors who are leading by example and showing how prioritizing equity and environmental justice early in an administration, can result in real, tangible change in people’s lives.
But we are also mindful of the work we have ahead of us.
From Detroit’s 48217 zip code, which, as you know, is one of the state’s most polluted zip codes because of the cumulative impacts of multiple industrial plants.
To the Flint crisis
To water affordability issues in Detroit.
Knowing that our work is far from over, I am thankful for the network of strong environmental justice advocates and community organizations – like many of you here – that have been on the frontlines, battling these issues for decades.
So that is what I will leave you with today: stay engaged.
Continue to offer feedback and guidance as we implement President Biden’s plan.
Our charge is to think broadly and inclusively about how to implement equitable policies that improve the quality of all Americans’ lives—now and for decades to come.
We have a chance to make a realdifference in people’s lives—that is what makes me excited to come to work every day.
I am eager to roll up my sleeves and get to work, alongside many of you.
Thank you for the work you do every single day and thank you for inviting me to join you today!