By Dr. Cecilia Martinez and Dr. Candace Vahlsing

President Biden is committed to delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of Federal climate, clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing, clean water, and other investments to disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.

And over the last ten months, the Biden-Harris Administration has worked every day to deliver on the President’s vision for the Justice40 Initiative.

Through the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Build Back Better Act, we will achieve the largest-ever expansion of investments in environmental justice, toxic waste remediation, clean water infrastructure, climate change, and clean energy deployment. Together, these bills will deploy hundreds of billions of dollars to replace lead pipes, deliver electric school buses, clean up Superfund sites, weatherize low-income homes, protect communities from storms and floods, and much, much more. Furthermore, many programs in both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Build Back Better Act will be covered by the Justice40 Initiative

We could not be more excited and proud of the cleaner water, cleaner air, safer climate, and more equitable opportunities that these historic investments will provide for this and future generations.

In addition to dramatically expanding U.S. investment in environmental justice, the Administration has mobilized nearly every Federal agency to transform hundreds of programs to meet the Justice40 goal and ensure that disadvantaged communities are receiving the benefits of new and existing investments.

The implementation of the President’s Justice40 commitment requires fundamental and sweeping reforms to the ways in which the Federal government operates; it is an effort that will take time and whole-of-government coordination, much like turning a large ship. 

But make no mistake: that ship is turning.

In just a few months, we’re already making significant progress implementing the President’s Justice40 commitment.

Altogether, hundreds of Federal programs, representing billions of dollars in annual investment, are currently undergoing review to not only deliver, but also track, benefits to disadvantaged communities.

In July, we gave formal direction to Federal agencies, through the Justice40 Interim Implementation Guidance, to begin examining eligible climate, clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing, clean water, and other programs to assess how to deliver 40 percent of their overall benefits to disadvantaged communities. This direction relied heavily on recommendations provided by environmental justice leaders and experts, including those who serve on the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

To accelerate the implementation of the Justice40 Initiative, we also identified a set of 21 existing Federal programs that are serving as pilot programs for Justice40. These Justice40 pilot programs will be undergoing the most rapid changes and will provide lessons and best practices that can be applied across Federal programs. Agencies that administer Justice40 pilot programs have already begun gathering input from environmental justice communities and the public to help inform the best way to implement Justice40, and to ensure there is accountability every step of the way.

In August, the 21 pilot programs developed Justice40 stakeholder engagement plans to engrain consultation with disadvantaged communities into the DNA of their efforts. For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are actively carrying out engagement activities tailored to their own unique legal, regulatory, and programmatic considerations and the needs of the communities, partners, and stakeholders they serve. DOT has already convened two virtual public meetings focused on Justice40, and in the past two months, EPA has convened a variety of engagement efforts, including seven bi-weekly community engagement calls focused on Justice40 and the six EPA programs participating in the Justice40 pilot.

In September, 21 pilot programs submitted plans on how they are going to maximize the benefits to disadvantaged communities. And some agencies are charging ahead and creating new programs to maximize the benefits of climate and clean energy programs directed to disadvantaged communities. For example, DOE has already opened up the following three funding opportunities:

  • The Communities LEAP (Local Energy Action Program) Pilot opens up $16 million for community-driven clean energy transition technical assistance to low-income, energy-burdened communities that are also experiencing either direct environmental justice impacts, or direct economic impacts from a shift away from historical reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize provides $2.5 million to fund up to 10 organizations to pursue ongoing and/or proposed activities related to climate and clean energy that support, build trust, and strengthen relationships and partnerships with disadvantaged communities.
  • Energy Storage for Social Equity Initiative (ES4SE) is a $9 million effort to help up to 15 underserved and frontline communities leverage energy storage as a means of increasing resilience and maximizing energy flexibility.

By mid-December, agencies will submit methodologies for calculating and tracking these benefits so we can ensure accountability and transparency in the Justice40 Initiative for hundreds of programs. We are developing a Scorecard to make this information available to the public, and that will be released early next year.

To support the effective implementation of Justice40, in the next few weeks we will publish a beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. This screening tool, which will be continuously updated and refined based on public feedback and research, will improve the consistency – across the Federal government – of how agencies implement programs and initiatives, including Justice40, that are intended to benefit disadvantaged communities.

This task of delivering the benefits of hundreds of Federal programs to communities that have been historically overburdened and underserved requires fundamental and sweeping reforms to the ways in which the Federal government as a whole operates. While it is both unprecedented and immensely challenging, it is also incredibly motivating. For the communities we work with, this investment will be life-changing, and it cannot come soon enough.

Correcting the historic wrongs that persist in these communities and others will require sustained and committed work. But make no mistake: we are implementing the President’s Justice40 commitment right now.

By making long overdue investments, by ensuring those investments reach the communities that need them most, by integrating environmental justice voices and expertise in Federal decision-making, and by taking action to cut pollution and alleviate environmental burdens, we are delivering, and will continue to deliver, on President Biden’s promise of a healthy and safe environment for all.

Dr. Cecilia Martinez is the Senior Director for Environmental Justice at the Council on Environmental Quality

Dr. Candace Vahlsing is the Associate Director for Climate, Energy, Environment and Science at the Office of Management and Budget

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