Today, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Brenda Mallory delivered virtual remarks at a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) public meeting.
Today’s meeting comes after CEQ released a beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST) last week, taking a major step toward addressing current and historic environmental injustices and fulfilling a key campaign promise from President Biden. The CEJST is a critical component of the President’s Justice40 Initiative, and the beta version of the tool, on which the public is being asked to provide feedback over the coming weeks, will help agencies identify disadvantaged communities to ensure that everyone is receiving the benefits intended from Federal programs as part of this Initiative.
Chair Mallory’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for inviting me.
And welcome to everyone who is joining this public meeting of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
As always, let me begin by expressing my immense gratitude to the WHEJAC members, who have continued to work nonstop – including over late nights and countless workgroup meetings—to develop recommendations for delivering environmental justice to communities across our country.
Today’s meeting will focus on the Environmental Justice Scorecard, an important accountability and transparency measure—and a cornerstone of President Biden’s environmental justice agenda.
I will share a few of my thoughts on the Scorecard to kick-off the discussion.
Before doing so, let me reflect on how my other work over the past few weeks has connected to what we are here to do today.
First, as we are coming to the end of Black History Month, I have had several opportunities in the past few weeks to consider and discuss what it means to be the first Black person to serve in my position in this Administration.
I usually note the sense of purpose and pride I feel—and the added responsibility—to advance the President’s agenda, particularly on environmental justice.
I felt that same sense of purpose last week as I traveled to Mississippi with our Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland.
Together, we visited the home of the civil rights leaders Medgar and Myrlie Evers.
And we visited the sites associated with the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till – including the Tallahatchie Courthouse where the murderers of a 14-year-old boy were swiftly acquitted.
Secretary Haaland, a 35th generation New Mexican and an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, speaks about generational trauma. How the oppression and struggles and violence and tragedy that have come before us affect who we are, even as we work towards a more just society.
That resonated with me as we visited the Civil rights sites, and I think of my own story and the way that my ancestors – known and unknown – found ways to continue moving forward as they endured the injustices of the time.
That is why, when I think of Black History, I think of resilience.
I think of a people who— in the face of the unspeakable— find a way to persist and keep pushing forward to build communities that are better for themselves and their children.
That enduring spirit – that grit – that tenacity – and ultimately, that resilience is what it will take to overcome the environmental injustices that have plagued our communities for far too long.
Clean air and clean water are basic human rights, and we must fight for them every single day.
For those of us, in roles helping to develop and implement environmental policy, it is our responsibility to put the interests of overburdened and underserved communities at the center of everything we do.
That is why I am proud that last week, informed by the work and recommendations of the WHEJAC, we launched the beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool is an interactive map. But it is a lot more than that.
It is a way to help identify which communities have been marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution – so that the Federal government can do a better job of delivering the benefits of programs and investments to the places that need them most.
In particular, the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool is critical for implementing the President’s Justice40 Initiative because it provides Federal agencies with a clear and consistent definition of disadvantaged communities, so that agencies can ensure that the benefits of climate, clean energy, affordable housing, and other environmental investments are reaching these communities.
The WHEJAC’s recommendations have already been immensely helpful in developing the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
The tool is now undergoing a 60-day public comment period. We hope you use this time to provide feedback to ensure that the tool is capturing the reality on the ground.
I also hope you will share the beta version of the tool with your networks.
Analyze the data. Explore the map. Click on the census tracts that you know. And let us know what looks right and what doesn’t.
That is the kind of input we need to refine and improve the tool. Thank you, in advance, for any additional help.
Now, let me turn to the reason we are gathered here today: the Environmental Justice Scorecard.
The WHEJAC is playing a critical role in the development of this first-ever Scorecard, so I am pleased that it will be a major focus of today’s public meeting.
It is one thing to set an ambitious Environmental Justice agenda, but it must be accompanied by transparency and accountability.
I am looking forward to hearing more about your vision and recommendations for the Scorecard, but let me briefly share my three core priorities.
First and foremost, the Environmental Justice Scorecard should track progress and work across the entire government and across the full breadthof our environmental justice agenda. That should include evaluating whether we’re reducing environmental burdens, delivering clean energy and climate benefits, and undertaking institutional reforms that ensure that the voices of communities are reflected in decision-making.
In other words: this scorecard is a way to hold ourselves accountable for progress on the Justice40 Initiative and for centering environmental justice in agency actions.
A second core priority is that the Environmental Justice Scorecard should provide information that is highly accessible and usable to anyone and everyone.
It shouldn’t just be a wonky website full of spreadsheets and numbers, but a place where a student or a community member can go to understand how their government is advancing environmental justice, and to find out where there is more work to be done.
A third priority is to make sure the Environmental Justice Scorecard is something that we build on and improve upon, year after year.
The Scorecard that we release this year will just be a starting point – a foundation on which we will build.
We will take some extra time to digest the recommendations you are submitting before publishing this initial Scorecard.
To be effective tools for accountability, each of these annual Scorecards will need to get more and more detailed about the progress the Federal government is making on the implementation of the Justice40 Initiative, in delivering meaningful change on the ground, and in embedding environmental justice into all the work we do.
I am excited about the work that lies ahead for the Scorecard, and very much look forward to getting your recommendations on it.
Finally, I want to underscore again my appreciation for the work you are all doing.
There is lot of critically important work happening at CEQ and across the Federal government to advance environmental justice and, as I’ve said time and again, we cannot do this work alone.
We need your help. We need your ideas. And we need your partnership.
For all the work you have done, and all the work you will do, thank you.
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