Today, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Brenda Mallory marked the one-year anniversary of the creation of the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) during a WHEJAC public meeting.
The WHEJAC was established by President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad to fulfill his and Vice President Harris’s commitment to confronting longstanding environmental injustices and to ensuring that marginalized, underserved, and overburdened communities have greater input on federal policies and decisions.
In its first year, the WHEJAC has provided advice and recommendations to the Chair of CEQ and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how to address current and historic environmental injustices, including recommendations on the Justice40 Initiative, the beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), the Environmental Justice Scorecard, and updating Executive Order 12898.
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.
I want to start today’s meeting with reflection—and gratitude.
This week, we mark one year since the creation of the WHEJAC.
To our WHEJAC members—thank you!
Thank you for one year of your service, your time, and your dedication to developing recommendations for delivering environmental justice to communities across our country.
I want to recognize the countless hours that go into WHEJAC recommendations, working groups, and public meetings.
Thank you to my colleagues across the federal family who have joined and presented at previous WHEJAC meetings, and to all those who are joining us today.
And, finally, a huge thank you to anyone who has ever joined a WHEJAC public meeting.
As we mark this historic milestone, I want to take a quick look back at what we’ve accomplished—together—since the WHEJAC was established.
I am going to focus on three ways in which the WHEJAC has played a critical role in the unprecedented environmental justice policy initiatives the Biden-Harris administration launched over the course of the last year.
First, bringing community voices to the table.
On the campaign trail, President Biden met with environmental justice leaders to listen, learn, and create a plan of action.
One resounding message he took away from these conversations was the need to bring community voices into the policymaking process from the beginning.
That is why he created the WHEJAC as one of his first actions in office.
In order to help implement President Biden’s unprecedented environmental justice commitments, it was critical to establish a formal body made up of experts, researchers, and long-time activists to provide counsel and guidance as we pursue our whole-of-government approach to environmental justice.
For the first time in our nation’s history, an administration has brought the perspectives and expertise of environmental justice communities into a formal advisory role at the White House.
Throughout the course of the last year, we have intentionally sought out community voices in other ways too.
Whether it was through the President and his Cabinet’s travel to visit folks on the ground so we could hear about their lived experiences and see the conditions people are enduring, or through more formal roundtables and consultations to facilitate community input.
All of these outreach efforts are to ensure that we are centering the voices we need to hear.
Two examples of this are the Justice40 Initiative and the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
I’ll start with Justice40.
In July 2021, the Biden-Harris administration issued interim guidance to Federal agencies on how to transform eligible programs 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 WHEJAC.
The guidance identified examples of the benefits of covered investments that agencies could consider as part of their Justice40 strategies.
More than 90 percent of these example benefits were informed by the WHEJAC recommendations issued in May 2021.
The guidance also identified 21 covered programs to be included in the Justice40 Pilot.
These 21 programs took steps to implement the Justice40 Initiative at an expedited pace, with the goal of providing lessons and best practices that could be applied across the whole-of-government.
Out of the 21 programs selected to be a Justice40 Pilot, 85 percent were informed by the WHEJAC recommendations issued in May 2021.
Turning now to the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
In February, CEQ launched the beta, or draft, version of this first-of-its-kind tool. We relied heavily on the recommendations that the WHEJAC submitted for creating a tool to help identify disadvantaged communities.
Additionally, we intentionally made it a draft version so that we could spend an additional 60 days gathering more input—from researchers, academics, practitioners, state and local leaders, and the public.
Taking this approach was guided by our conversations with many environmental justice experts.
The Justice40 initiative and the screening tool are among the most impactful actions the Biden-Harris administration took in our first year to set up a systematic, whole of government approach to address environmental injustice.
Both of these landmark policies were informed by WHEJAC recommendations.
Finally, the WHEJAC has pushed us to deliver on our whole of government approach.
Agency after agency – from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Agriculture to the General Services Administration — has launched or strengthened environmental equity and justice offices, task forces, or strategies.
The President directed us to reduce the pollution burdens and climate change threats that communities are facing.
The President himself helped deliver on this promise by getting the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed, and securing historic investments to clean up Superfund sites and brownfields, replace lead pipes, deal with abandoned mines and oil wells, and lots more.
And as an Administration more broadly, we have made big strides in the past year to reduce the burdens and confront the injustices that many communities are facing. To name a few, we are: cracking down on PFAS and other toxic chemicals; cutting vehicle pollution; reforming FEMA’s disaster programs; lowering energy burdens; helping Tribal nations bolster climate resilience; electrifying ports; confronting housing segregation and unequal housing opportunities; and stepping up environmental enforcement and inspections.
So, we meet here today, on the one-year anniversary of the creation of the WHEJAC, recognizing how far we’ve come and understanding how far we still have to go.
When we meet one year from now, we will have made more progress on the ground thanks to Justice40; we will have released a first ever environmental justice scorecard to hold ourselves accountable to our historic commitments; we will have an improved version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool; and we will have held more meetings with community leaders, the WHEJAC, activists, and the public so that the lived experiences of communities are reflected in our policy choices.
Turning to what is happening now—
On Monday, the President released his budget, which will help us achieve our goals by providing historic support for overburdened and underserved communities.
The Budget represents President Biden’s vision for the Administration’s strategic and sustained investments needed to address environmental injustice.
Importantly, it will help to advance the Justice40 initiative.
Here are a few highlights from the Budget:
- It creates new programs across more than five agencies to invest in disadvantaged communities, including a new program to decrease costs for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP recipients.
- It invests:
- $1.45 billion across the Environmental Protection Agency to bolster environmental justice efforts, including $100 million for a new community air quality monitoring program;
- $150 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to prioritize resilience and energy efficiency activities in affordable housing and housing-related projects for Tribal communities;
- $40 million for a new Community Capacity Building initiative to support historically underserved communities around cleanup sites; and
- $1.4 million for the Department of Justice to establish an Office for Environmental Justice.
Yesterday, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the first group of communities who have been selected as part of the inaugural Communities Local Energy Action Program.
This is a new initiative to help overburdened communities benefit from the transition to clean energy.
These communities will receive support from DOE to create action plans to reduce air pollution, lower energy costs, and become more resilient.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: we have a lot of work ahead of us.
The WHEJAC plays a critical role in our policy development, and I’m looking forward to receiving your final recommendations on the Scorecard, and for our work to come in the months ahead.
I want to close by providing three updates in response to a letter the WHEJAC sent to me on March 8.
I will follow up in writing to the WHEJAC with more information, which will then be made available to the public.
My first update is on staffing and resources.
I am thrilled to announce two new hires at CEQ who will support our ongoing work to implement our many environmental justice goals and initiatives.
Amanda Aguirre has joined as Senior Advisor to the Chair for Environmental Justice; and Jessica Ennis will be starting shortly as our Director for Public Engagement – working with a wide range of stakeholders – including environmental justice stakeholders – to ensure all voices are heard.
Amanda and Jessica bring a wealth of knowledge to CEQ and share our deep commitment to listen, learn, and work alongside communities in our policy development.
Our shared desire to continue to build the strength of our environmental justice team at CEQ – and across the federal government – remains.
On that note, I am pleased that Administrator Regan recently made an exciting hire: Robin Morris Collin joined EPA as Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice. She will be joining the WHEJAC public meeting tomorrow.
My second update is on timelines.
Over the last year, we have asked – and we will continue to ask – for your input on brand new initiatives that will fundamentally transform the federal government.
It is critical to me – and my colleagues – that we hear from you on the front-end of the development of these initiatives, as we did for the Justice40 Initiative and the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
I know there is a desire on the WHEJAC’s part to have a better sense of our timelines for completing actions. We are committed to keeping you updated on our progress as we are working on these initiatives and as timelines evolve.
We’ll be as transparent as we can about the delays we are encountering.
And finally, my third update is on engagement with the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council.
Like the WHEJAC, the Interagency Council was established by President Biden in Executive Order 14008 – the WHEJAC as external body and the Interagency Council as an internal body.
While several members of the Interagency Council – including those speaking later today – have joined WHEJAC workgroup and public meetings, additional coordination between the councils would be valuable.
We are actively working to stand up a formal meeting between the two bodies ahead of the next WHEJAC public meeting. Stay tuned for more information.
Thank you, once again, for inviting me to join you today.
Now, it is my pleasure to introduce our next speaker Dr. Kimberlyn Leary, Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Domestic Policy Council.
At the White House, Dr. Leary works with the racial and economic justice team to implement President Biden’s equity agenda.
Thank you for being here, and we look forward to your presentation.