In case you missed it, following a visit to Houston, Texas, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory published an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle highlighting how President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative is helping advance environmental justice and creating new opportunities in communities overburdened by pollution and historic underinvestment.
Houston Chronicle: White House: Working Towards Environmental Justice in Houston
By Brenda Mallory
For more than a century, Houston’s energy industry has helped fuel America’s growth and power our economy. At the same time, local communities like Manchester and Baytown, which I visited last month, have been disproportionately affected by pollution near those facilities. Like marginalized, underserved, and overburdened neighborhoods across the country – often low-income communities or communities of color – many Texas families are dealing with a legacy of environmental injustice.
As we stood on a playground at Hartman Park, surrounded by industrial facilities that have leaked benzene and other toxic chemicals for decades, we were warned that some people feel sick after breathing the air for only a few minutes. The nearby community, predominantly Latino, struggles with health challenges as a result.
Though the challenges communities such as Manchester and Baytown face can be daunting, there is reason for hope: President Biden has championed the most aggressive environmental justice agenda in U.S. history, launching a whole-of-government effort to address the injustices of our past and help communities that previously were left behind. With the support of advocates who have fought pollution for decades, we have secured historic funding to advance equity and justice for all and are refocusing hundreds of federal programs to help disadvantaged communities.
PresidentBiden’s Justice40 Initiative commits 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal investments in climate, clean energy, workforce development, and more to communities that are overburdened by pollution and underinvestment. People who were historically the last to benefit from federal programs are now some of the first in line. That means good-paying jobs, cleaner air and water, and better health.
Every community’s needs are different. In Houston, WE ACT for Environmental Justice connected us with local leaders trying to address and reverse the harmful effects of the industry in their own backyard. Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services – TEJAS – and others are doing incredible work pushing for better pollution monitoring, corporate accountability, and economic opportunity at all levels of government. We met passionate, resilient people who love their communities and are working towards meaningful solutions.
Justice40 programs are multiplying community resources and supporting positive change on the ground. Thanks to funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan, organizations and local governments in Texas will receive over $3 million for air pollution monitoring. These grants will arm communities with data about the air they breathe and show officials where we need to prioritize pollution reduction.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is also advancing environmental justice. More than $108 million is headed to Texas to clean up legacy pollution. Another $360 million plus will remove lead pipes and ensure every Texas family has clean drinking water. Over $21 million will help Houston replace aging diesel buses with electric buses, eliminating nearly 18,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years. And $51 million is helping schools in Houston and districts across the state purchase zero-emissions school buses.
When we think about climate change, we think about jobs. At a Houston-area high school, we met a teacher who has dedicated himself to exposing his students to green jobs right in their community. The Justice40 Initiative will create new opportunities for his students in the clean energy industry – building solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, and wind turbines right here in the United States.
Those opportunities are already on their way. We visited the future Sunnyside Solar Farm, a project Mayor Sylvester Turner has championed to transform a former 240-acre landfill into a renewable power source for up to 10,000 homes. The solar farm will create more than 100 jobs in a low-income Black community that has disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart disease, bringing economic development to an area historically left behind.
As I travel the country, I see how pollution and climate change are harming often overlooked communities and families who have borne more than their share. I’ve seen how unique some of these challenges are to each neighborhood. The federal government cannot solve these historic issues alone. To truly tackle environmental injustice, each community needs a tailored approach shaped by local voices and the engagement of local entities.
Our path forward must combine local leadership, like that I saw in Houston, with federal investments that will flow from the Justice40 Initiative, tough enforcement of environmental laws, and partnerships with nonprofits and the private sector. When we join forces, we can create a powerful, effective approach to combatting pollution while creating opportunity in the places that need it most.
PresidentBiden and I share a belief that every single person deserves access to clean water, clean air, and a healthy community. Together, we can make real inroads in our fight to create a safer, healthier, and more prosperous country for future generations.
Brenda Mallory is the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinates federal efforts to improve, preserve, and protect America’s public health and environment.