President Biden's Commitment to the Climate Crisis - Here are key things to know about his Executive Order

On January 27, 2021, President Joe Biden announced his Executive Order (14008) titled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” centering the climate crisis in foreign and national policy and planning. This Executive Order codifies the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to climate change, creating jobs, building infrastructure, and delivering environmental justice. 

Notably, the Executive Order takes critical steps to direct federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities. Here are a few things to note regarding his commitment to “Secure Environmental Justice and Spur Economic Opportunity.”

White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council

The Executive Order establishes a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council to strengthen monitoring and enforcement through offices at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services.  

These are groundbreaking models that bring, for the first time, the input, expertise, and guidance of climate and environmental justice leaders to the President of the United States and his Cabinet. 

The  White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) members include a total of 25 environmental justice leaders from across the nation that represents a diverse set of geographical regions and will serve in a voluntary capacity. The WHEJAC will provide input and recommendations to senior leaders across government, including the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how to address current and historic environmental injustices. 

For more information on the WHEJAC visit their webpage here. The WHEJAC will complement the ongoing work of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) in the EPA. More information about NEJAC can be found here

The White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council (IAC) is led by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, Brenda Mallory, and includes 18 agencies, such as the Secretary of Defence, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Interior.  

The IAC is responsible for strengthening federal government efforts to combat environmental injustice by submitting “recommendations for further updating Executive Order 12898,” publishing an annual public performance score-card on the Order’s implementation, and creating a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool in close consultation with the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Justice40 Initiative

The Executive Order also creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40 percent of climate investment benefits to disadvantaged communities and track performances toward that goal through the establishment of an Environmental Justice Scorecard. The Order initiates the development of a Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool, building off EPA’s EJSCREEN, to identify disadvantaged communities, support the Justice40 Initiative, and inform equitable decision-making across the federal government. 

The recommendations from the initiative are to focus on investments in the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit; affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of critical clean water infrastructure.

On May 21st the WHEJAC submitted their final recommendations cover letter to the Council of Environmental Quality and President Biden. This letter provides recommendations on the Justice40 initiative which include transformative investments be made in capacity building, technical assistance, and consultation, and creating a user-friendly federal process for the administration of funding and other support. Over the next few months, the WHEJAC will also consider and submit recommendations on the Scorecard, the administration and implementation of Justice40, and final recommendations on the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.