This week, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) hosted the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) for its first hybrid in-person and virtual public meeting. The meeting focused on implementation of Federal climate and environment programs as the WHEJAC continues to shape the Biden Administration’s strategy to confront decades of environmental injustices and underinvestment in communities across America.

Over three days, the WHEJAC held discussions on a number of Biden Administration programs and priorities, including the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, efforts to address legacy pollution, and more. The WHEJAC also held a public comment session to provide an opportunity for the general public to share their recommendations and concerns on a variety of topics related to environmental justice.

Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation John Podesta and CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory delivered remarks that highlighted the WHEJAC’s invaluable guidance in establishing a strong path forward for delivering environmental justice to all Americans.

Sessions included:

  • Remarks by CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory and Senior Director for Environmental Justice Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome
  • A Conversation with John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation
  • An Overview of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund
  • Addressing Legacy Pollution: A Federal Panel Discussion on Cleanup Efforts
  • Discussion on the Formation of a Working Group on Carbon Management
  • The National Climate Assessment: Overview & Opportunities for Engagement

Remarks by CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory as prepared:

Thank you and good afternoon! It is such an honor to be here with all of you in person.

As I did with the smaller group I met with yesterday, I want to begin by honoring our friend and partner in this work, Congressman Donald McEachin, who passed away on Monday.

Congressman McEachin was a fierce advocate and unrivaled champion for justice and gave particular attention to everything we care about at CEQ and to the work we are doing to implement the President’s agenda.

He believed in the President’s agenda and the President noted how grateful he was to have Congressman McEachin’s early and fierce support when he ran for President.

His death is a huge loss for our environmental justice community. But his life was an unwavering source of support and encouragement. I will be forever grateful that our journeys intersected and I had the opportunity to meet this great man.

My thoughts are with his wife and family, his friends, colleagues, and staff—both past and present. And with all of you who knew him well and worked with him over the years.

Turning to the work ahead of us, let me begin by thanking the WHEJAC chairs and vice-chairs—Richard, Peggy, Catherine, and Carletta—for your leadership and welcoming us to today’s public meeting.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to travel to Washington, D.C. for this meeting. And, of course, thank you to all of you who are joining from afar. I also want to thank Victoria for organizing the logistics of this meeting.

Finally, I want to give a huge thanks to my CEQ team, led by Dr. Jalonne White Newsome and Corey Solow. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… You are a small but mighty team.

The work that this team does day in and day out to advance President Biden’s environmental justice agenda is incredible. I am grateful for all of you.

We are meeting here today on the eve of the holiday season, which for my family is a time to reflect on the past year. In that spirit, I’d like to take a moment to reflect back before detailing our path forward. 

I often speak about how during our first year in the Biden-Harris administration, we were focused on establishing the framework and pillars to anchor environmental justice within the federal government.

That took timeand it took unprecedented effort from our federal family, from the WHEJAC, and from all of you.

Now, I know there were many in this room and on this zoom who wanted us to move faster. And I understand that.

Climate change and our history of environmental injustice—these are problems that demand urgency and ambition.

And make no mistake—we are tackling these problems with urgency and ambition.

It is also true that for our work to outlast us—as the President wants it to – we must do things the right way so that our policies endure the shifting political winds.

The process we undertook in the first year mattered…setting the pillars, laying the framework. It mattered.

Because now—nearing the conclusion of our second year in office—we are building a strong and sustainable foundation that institutionalizes environmental justice across the federal government.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but let me touch on some examples that show how this foundation is already yielding results.

First, community voices are part of the policy making process in a way they have never been before.

On the campaign trail, President Biden met with environmental justice leaders—including many of you—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 early and often.

We are now doing that—in a meaningful way that yields real results.

Just last week, CEQ released the first version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST).

In line with the feedback the President received on the campaign trail, CEQ spent nearly a year requesting and gathering input on how to create the best version of the tool that accurately reflects the reality on the ground.

And you spent nearly a year exploring and researching the tool, finding better data, suggesting new methods for measurement, providing feedback where the tool might have missed a community, and so much more.

In total, we received 3,000 comments on the screening tool. 3,000! That’s because you passed the word to your communities and networks. And we read through every single one.

Where we could, we incorporated the feedback—and I sure hope you saw your work reflected in what we released last week, because I saw it.

In many ways, the collective “we” released the screening tool. We could not have done it without you. Full stop. And—most importantly—the final product, and the investments that will flow from the tool, is better for it. That’s just one example of this foundation at work.

Now let me turn to the Justice40 initiative to demonstrate another way that our foundation is working.

During his very first week in office, President Biden set a goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits from certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities.

This means investments in clean energy, modern transit, quality housing, legacy pollution clean-up, clean water infrastructure, and so much more.

In July 2021, OMB Director Shalanda Young and I, along with Gina McCarthy, issued guidance to agencies for how to implement the Justice40 initiative, since something like this had never been done before.

This guidance 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. Out of the 21 programs selected to be a Justice40 Pilot, 85 percent were informed by the WHEJAC recommendations issued in May 2021. 

The guidance was the framework, and the pilot programs were the pillars that embedded environmental justice into federal programs.

Now, in 2022, hundreds of federal programs, many funded or created by the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act – representing billions of dollars in annual investment –are being reimagined and transformed to meet the Justice40 goal and maximize benefits to disadvantaged communities.

Thanks to the WHEJAC’s input, we are already beginning to see these benefits materialize across communities through initial projects from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Like the Clean School Bus Program, which is replacing the nation’s existing fleet of school buses with clean and zero-emission buses – ensuring cleaner and healthier air for children and families.

The Department of the Interior has also begun work reclaiming abandoned mine lands and plugging orphaned oil and gas wells – giving priority to wells in proximity to disadvantaged communities.

And as we work to implement Justice40, we are first and foremost ensuring our strategy is guided by data, stakeholder input, and the commitment to make intentional policy choices that reflect a holistic approach to addressing the impacts of environmental injustice.

As we embarked on this unprecedented work at the beginning of the administration, our strategy was guided by a couple of President Biden’s core beliefs:

First, that every single person deserves access to clean drinking water, to clean air, and to a healthy community.  

And second, that for too many people, their government has failed to deliver those basic protections.  

We know that correcting these historic wrongs requires a long-term commitment. And while this strategy has been guided by the President’s core beliefs, it has been shaped by you.

Together, we created the groundwork to implement change. The WHEJAC is shaping policy, the first version of the CEJST has been deployed, and the Justice40 initiative is in full swing.

Now we must do the hard work of implementation.

Which leads me to looking forward. This next phase reaches to the heart of what we are trying to do in the Biden-Harris Administration—implement policies to create on the ground changes for communities.

With the passage of the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, agencies across the Federal family now have the funds needed to create meaningful change on the ground.

This is a critical opportunity to strengthen the Administration’s commitment to environmental justice and to ensure our efforts are sustained well beyond us.

For me, this means not only striving to reshape agencies to elevate and institutionalize environmental justice, but supporting the staff across the interagency dedicated to this work.

It means thinking creatively and working with Federal partners, the WHEJAC, and communities to ensure that the programs established and funded in the IRA create positive change that people can see, feel, taste, and smell in their communities.

It means increasing technical assistance; making the grant making process more accessible; taking time to meaningfully engage with community members and incorporate their feedback into our work.

It means striving for less asthma in children.

It means more families with clean water to drink.

It means cleaner land and better lives for Tribal and Indigenous communities.

And thanks to the leadership of the WHEJAC and many others, all of these goals are within striking distance.

So let’s acknowledge how critical this opportunity is and deploy our collective power to seize it.

Together, we must take advantage of this moment, and with the support, encouragement, and partnership of the WHEJAC, I know we will.


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