By: CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory

In February–Black History Month—Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and I traveled to Mississippi to visit some of our nation’s most sacred and cherished civil rights sites. We stood in the home, now a part of our national park system, of the civil rights leaders Medgar and Myrlie Evers. We visited the sites associated with the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. And we saw the Tallahatchie Courthouse where the murderers of a 14-year-old boy were swiftly acquitted.

The Black experience is full of examples of people surviving the unspeakable and continuing to forge a path forward with resilience, tenacity, and grit. My own ancestors, including those I know and those I did not, found ways to endure and move forward, generation after generation, from slavery and Jim Crow to their own advocacy for civil rights.

I am grateful for the month-long spotlight that Black History Month brings to the achievements and contributions of African Americans to this nation.

Black History Month reminds us that preserving and reflecting on the full American story, with all of its complexities, is how we come to better understand ourselves and each other. It is also a call to confront the legacies of injustice so that we may form a more perfect Union.

It is this history that inspires me—the first African American to serve as Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)—to approach the work I do every day in the Biden-Harris Administration with determination.  It is also this history that reminds me of the responsibility that we have to confront injustice. For me, that starts with fighting for the clean air and clean water that, for millions of Americans, is not yet a reality.

On Tuesday, I was proud that President Biden became the first president to say the words “environmental justice” in a State of the Union speech. In doing so, he reaffirmed his Administration’s commitment to put the interests of communities that are overburdened by pollution and underserved by their government at the center of our environmental policy.  

Over the past year, we have begun the hard work of alleviating the environmental burdens that so many communities are experiencing. Through unprecedented investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are replacing lead pipes, accelerating Superfund clean-ups, cleaning up abandoned mines and oil wells, and protecting the most vulnerable communities from fires, floods, and storms. Agencies are banning toxic pesticides, confronting PFAS pollution, cutting tailpipe pollution, and cleaning up the air we breathe. The Federal government is once again holding polluters accountable by enforcing our environmental laws.

In addition to working to alleviate the pollution and climate change risks that disproportionately fall on low-income communities and communities of color, the President has directed us to confront a legacy of underinvestment in communities that, for too long, have been left behind.

We are doing so through the Justice40 Initiative, which seeks to direct 40% of the overall benefits of climate, clean energy, and other Federal investments to disadvantaged communities. Across the government, we are working to transform hundreds of Federal programs to ensure they are reaching rural and urban communities that are overburdened, underserved, and marginalized.

To help guide this fundamental re-orientation of Federal programs, CEQ recently launched a first-of-its kind, geospatial, interactive map—called the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST)—that will help identify which communities have been marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. The purpose of this mapping tool, which we launched in beta (or draft) form, is to help the Federal government do a better job of delivering the benefits of programs and investments to the places that need them most, including through the Justice40 Initiative.

In developing this tool, CEQ relied heavily on recommendations provided by the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, an advisory body convened by President Biden that includes some of our nation’s foremost environmental justice experts and advocates.

The Climate and Economic Justice Screening tool is now undergoing a 60-day public comment period. This is a critical time for us to gather input and feedback so that we can further improve the tool so that it reflects the environmental challenges that communities are experiencing every day.

I hope you will visit screeningtool.geoplatform.gov. Please explore the map. Analyze the data. Click on the census tracts that you know. Let us know what looks right and what doesn’t. And then share the tool with friends and family so they can do the same.

To help gather feedback, I’m also pleased to announce that CEQ is hosting several opportunities over the coming weeks to learn more about the tool and share your comments. The schedule of training webinars and public listening sessions is below.

We hope to see you in one of these sessions. And we are grateful for your partnership and support as we fight for a more just, healthy, and equitable future for all communities in America. 

Training Webinars on beta version of CEJST

  • Wednesday, March 9, 2022 at 4pm ET. Register here.
  • Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 4pm ET. Register here.
  • Wednesday, March 16, 2022 at 4pm ET. Register here.

Public Listening Sessions on beta version of CEJST  

  • Tuesday, March 22, 2022 at 4pm ET. Register here.
  • Friday, April 15, 2022 at 4pm ET. Register here.

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