On April 28, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) reconvened to discuss the progress of three working groups established during its inaugural meeting on which we reported previously: the Justice40 Initiative, Executive Order 12898, and Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool working groups.

The Justice40 Initiative

The Council heard a range of recommendations for this initiative, through which the administration seeks to direct investment to underserved communities:

  • The workgroup proposed a Justice40 investment benefit to be “justice driven, accountable, community powered, anti-racist and focused on community wealth-building.” Existing state programs will help define investments benefits, such as the Illinois Future Energy Job Act and the development criteria of the Minneapolis Green Zones.
  • The workgroup listed four guiding principles. (1) 100% of investments must do no harm to Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. (2) At least 40% of investments should go to EJ communities. (3) A portion of investments should go directly to EJ community members/organizations. (4) Funding should support community-driven recovery and long-term rebuilding/relocation. The group also discussed targeting rural communities for investment and mechanisms to monitor all investments.
  • Eligible projects could include clean energy projects, regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure projects, clean energy jobs training, lead water pipe replacement, clean drinking water and environmentally sound sanitation improvements, public transportation, community electric microgrids, and community and cooperatively owned green housing.
  • Ineligible projects that would not receive investment include fossil fuel power plant development and infrastructure repair, carbon capture and storage, carbon markets such as cap and trade, and transportation infrastructure that would displace EJ community residents or small businesses.

Executive Order 12898

The Council also considered a proposed framework for revising Executive Order 12898 — the executive order issued by President Bill Clinton to address environmental justice in minority and low-income populations. This framework would include the following for each federal agency to do:

  1. identify gaps in existing laws or policies and make recommendations for legislative change to fulfill the goals of the executive order
  2. add modern definitions and tools to match current thinking in EJ practices
  3. include those left out of executive order 12898, acknowledging racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic populations
  4. declare that federal agencies’ responsibilities must include achieving EJ as part of their mission when serving the public
  5. declare that federal agencies must not exclude through programs, policies, practices, and activities, because of race, color, national origin, income level, or membership in a tribal or indigenous community
  6. establish timelines that federal agencies must follow when developing and reviewing strategic plans; each plan must include achieving EJ
  7. further research applying executive order 12898 to state and local jurisdictions, including enforcement of all civil rights
  8. protect populations with different patterns of consumption, and cultural practices related to fish and wildlife, and cultural practices reliant on environmental quality, including sacred places
  9. encourage community-based science to improve research and data collection
  10. make agency interpretations of documents available and accessible, especially to populations with limited English who may be affected disproportionately by the actions
  11. address health and environmental risk affecting tribal and indigenous populations and ensure that indigenous peoples do not face burdensome barriers to participation in federal EJ programs, practices, policies, and decisions or suffer additional harm because they are not federally recognized

Climate and EJ Screening Tool

The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool is set to be launched in July 2021. The workgroup reported that the tool should be used to hold actors “accountable” and ensure “accountability for process.” Additionally, the tool could provide data on the permitting process, permits, emissions, pollution and emissions indicators, healthy indicators, process indicators, economic indicators, performance metrics, and funding. The group recommended that the tool also evaluate exposures, proximity to potential hazards, sensitive populations, demographic/socioeconomic status factors. energy, economic development, and climate vulnerability, while council members urged that the tool incorporate native American populations, rural communities, and data generated by community members and partnerships to supplement existing databases.

WHEJAC will finalize its recommendations for the White House on May 13.