One-Year Wrap-Up: Highlights from the Council on Environmental Quality’s Progress in Tackling the Climate Crisis, Advancing Environmental Justice, Conserving and Restoring Lands and Waters, Boosting Clean Energy Investments and Strengthening Federal Sustainability
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is working to advance five major environmental priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration: addressing climate change; strengthening federal sustainability; advancing environmental justice; conserving our lands and waters; and ensuring that implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) promotes sound and well-informed decision making. In the first year of the Biden-Harris Administration, we’ve made substantial progress in these areas, including through these steps:
Fulfilling Historic Commitments to Advance Environmental Justice and Spurring Economic Opportunity for Disadvantaged Communities
President Biden has made historic commitments to use every lever at his disposal to advance environmental justice and spur economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities. Within his first weeks in office, he established the Justice40 Initiative. In July, CEQ, along with the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, provided formal direction to Federal agencies, through the Justice40 Interim Implementation Guidance. The guidance directed Federal agencies 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. In addition, the guidance introduced measures to guide agencies on their path to implementing Justice40, launched the Justice40 Pilot Program, and includes accountability and transparency tools to ensure agencies are working to reach the Justice40 goal. 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 (WHEJAC).
Expanding Locally-Led Conservation Efforts in First Year of “America the Beautiful” Initiative
On May 6, CEQ worked in partnership with the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce to outline a vision for how the United States can work collaboratively to conserve and restore the lands, waters, and wildlife that support and sustain our nation. In August, Chair Brenda Mallory launched the America the Beautiful Interagency Working Group (IWG) with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo. And in December, the IWG issued its first annual progress report on the America the Beautiful Initiative, outlining collective work to pursue the first-ever national conservation goal established by a President and several steps agencies are taking to ensure that the initiative is both guided by and reflective of the priorities, needs, and inputs of local communities, Tribes, states, landowners, hunters and fishers, and other important stakeholders.
Restoring Protections for America’s Most Cherished Lands and Waters
On October 7, President Biden signed three proclamations restoring protections for the Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments. The proclamations reflect the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to better protect, conserve, and restore the lands and waters that sustain the health of communities and power our economies.
Accelerating Efforts to Create Jobs by Making American Buildings More Affordable, Cleaner, and Resilient
On May 17, CEQ joined the White House in convening leaders from across the Administration to announce new federal investments in building energy efficiency and electrification, as well as new opportunities to modernize homes and businesses, which will create good-paying union jobs. CEQ launched an interagency Federal sustainability effort with the General Services Administration, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop the first-ever building performance standards (BPS) for the Federal government. The BPS will establish metrics, targets, and tracking methods to reach federal carbon emissions goals. They will also identify progressive performance milestones as well as the resources that agencies need to meet them.
Coordinating Effective Ocean Science and Management Policy Across the Federal Government
On October 29, Chair Brenda Mallory and the President’s Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Dr. Eric Lander, convened the first Biden-Harris Administration meeting of the Ocean Policy Committee (OPC). The OPC is a congressionally mandated, Secretary-level interagency body tasked with coordinating ocean science and technology and management policy across the Federal government.
Elevating Indigenous Knowledge in Federal Policy Decisions
On November 15, CEQ and OSTP released a joint memorandum committing to elevating Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK) in federal scientific and policy processes. ITEK is a body of observations, oral and written knowledge, practices, and beliefs that promotes environmental sustainability and the responsible stewardship of natural resources through relationships between humans and environmental systems. This new memorandum formally recognizes ITEK as one of the many important bodies of knowledge that contributes to the scientific, technical, social, and economic advancements of the United States and our collective understanding of the natural world. CEQ and OSTP have convened an interagency working group and, with input from Tribes, Native communities, and knowledge-holders, will develop a guidance document for release later this year.
Protecting Americans from Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
On October 18, the Biden-Harris Administration announced accelerated efforts to protect Americans from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause severe health problems and persist in the environment once released, posing a serious threat across rural, suburban, and urban areas. As part of this effort, CEQ kicked off a high-level interagency initiative focused on PFAS actions to facilitate the coordination of PFAS response activities across government. Chair Brenda Mallory convened a first meeting of the newly-formed Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS where agency leaders discussed their progress and plans for addressing PFAS contamination and reducing the risks to American families.
Leading by Example to Leverage Scale and Procurement Power to Drive Clean, Healthy, and Resilient Federal Operations
On December 8, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability and issued his Federal Sustainability Plan. The Executive Order demonstrates how the United States will leverage its scale and procurement power to lead by example in tackling the climate crisis, including directing the Federal government to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
CEQ’s Office of the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer helped develop the Executive Order, which will reduce emissions across federal operations, invest in American clean energy industries and manufacturing, and create clean, healthy, and resilient communities.
Moving to Restore Basic Community Safeguards During Federal Environmental Reviews
On October 6, CEQ announced important steps to restore community safeguards during environmental reviews for a wide range of Federal projects and decisions. As part of the Biden Administration’s whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis and confronting environmental injustice, CEQ proposed to restore three core procedural provisions of its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to provide communities and decision makers with more complete information about proposed projects, their environmental and public health impacts, and their alternatives.
Demonstrating Global Leadership by Addressing Climate Change and Greening Government Operations
On April 22, in conjunction with President Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate, CEQ announced the Greening Government Initiative (GGI) in partnership with Canada to engage governments around the world in greening government operations. And in November, during a COP26 Global Climate Action Event, Federal Chief Sustainability Officer Andrew Mayock announced 39 inaugural countries had joined this first-of-its-kind initiative, which enables countries to exchange information, promote innovation, and share best practices to green government operations and meet Paris Agreement climate commitments. By actively participating in the GGI, countries will build a community of practice among sustainability leaders in order to strengthen and accelerate greening of national government operations.