No ‘easy fix’: White House records progress on EE agenda

The White House kicked off a week of action this morning to highlight the Biden administration’s progress on environmental justice, pointing to $29 billion in the pipeline to support housing, clean up environmental hazards and support jobs in communities. coal communities.

Administration officials expressed excitement “about the progress we’re making” on Justice40, a plan to direct 40% of climate-related “investment benefits” to disadvantaged communities. This includes money from last year’s infrastructure bill.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” said an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, during a call with reporters.

The announcement follows a year of criticism from Republicans wary of the administration’s equity agenda and environmental justice activists who fear President Joe Biden will keep his promise to address their requests.

This morning, White House officials took another opportunity to defend their work and unveiled a new EJ portal. They described the effort as leading hundreds of ships, each representing a different federal program, and want to be more public about that work.

Vice President Kamala Harris joined EPA Administrator Michael Regan in northern Virginia last week to highlight $500 million in funding to replace the nation’s school bus fleet with self-powered vehicles. zero emissions. The EPA also announced more than $9.6 billion through the state’s revolving fund for water infrastructure.

At the Department of Energy, the White House touted $3 billion in spending on the Weatherization Assistance Program, which lowers energy costs for low-income households. The DOE announced an additional $3 billion to boost battery and clean energy research and development.

“In total, hundreds of federal programs, representing billions of dollars in annual investments – including programs that were funded or created in the Presidential Bipartisan Infrastructure Act – are used to maximize benefits for disadvantaged communities through to the Justice40 initiative,” the White House said. in a fact sheet released today.

Exactly how the administration plans to count the “investment benefits” of climate finance and clean energy has been a point of contention, with environmental justice advocates calling the math amorphous and expressing concern that American companies may inadvertently reap the benefits.

The answer to this question remains somewhat unclear, but the White House, through the US digital service, has been working on a mapping tool using various health and environmental indicators to identify where to direct spending. A public comment period ended last week.

One of the criticisms from defenders is about the tool’s lack of race indicators. Administration officials said racial factors could expose the entire initiative to legal vulnerabilities from conservatives (green wireApril 13).

“An updated version of the screening tool, along with an updated technical assistance document, will be released following review of comments from the public comment period, tribal consultations, and meetings with agencies. federal,” the White House said today.

Among the biggest critics of the White House Council on Environmental Quality is an outside group of advisers the president has appointed to help the administration implement Justice40 and other environmental justice efforts. .

The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, known by its abbreviation WHEJAC, released 100 pages of recommendations last year, including some policy positions that conflicted with the Biden administration’s stated goals.

The president, for example, supports carbon capture and sequestration to help fight climate change. Proponents have argued that carbon capture operations are built into frontline communities and, more broadly, extend the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Today, the administration released its lengthy response to the recommendations, a task mandated under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The document shows how the agencies are “fundamentally” reorienting their work to address environmental justice, officials said.

“We have taken these recommendations very seriously over the past year, consulting them again and again as we develop the beta version of the climate and economic justice screening tool,” an official said during the interview. the conference call.

The White House’s environmental justice work has also been affected by the turnover. Earlier this month, CEQ announced a new Senior Director for Environmental Justice, Jalonne White-Newsome (green wireMay 5).

The official emphasized that there is no “simple solution” to the injustices that have spanned generations in the United States and are incredibly complicated. “The work described in this report does not lend itself to a short sentence or a catchy title.”

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