On Friday, President Biden signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to make it their “mission” to work towards “environmental justice for all.” The order creates a White House Office of Environmental Justice and aims to protect overburdened communities from pollution and environmental harm.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
The order also says there’s an issue of racism as a fundamental driver of environmental injustice, stating that “For far too long, communities across our country have faced persistent environmental injustice through toxic pollution, underinvestment in infrastructure and critical services, and other disproportionate environmental harms often due to a legacy of racial discrimination,” according to the White House.
In addition to creating the White House Office of Environmental Justice, the directive requires federal agencies to notify communities if toxic substances are released from a federal facility.
“This is about people’s health. It’s about the health of our communities. It’s only about the future of our planet,” President Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House on Friday.
The Climate Justice Alliance, a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting climate justice, told USA Today that the executive order is the result of nearly 20 years of organizing by the environmental justice movement.
Republican Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, who serves as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, criticized Biden’s order as wasteful, stating that “The idea that creating a new office and launching new messaging campaigns will do anything other than waste tax dollars is laughable.”
During the signing ceremony on Friday, President Biden also celebrated the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which he signed into law last year, and criticized Republican calls to end clean energy tax cuts as part of a debt limit increase. Republicans have proposed repealing or revising 24 tax incentives enacted or amended by the IRA.
“The MAGA Republicans in Congress want to repeal climate protections in the Inflation Reduction Act. They’d rather threaten to default the U.S. economy…than get rid of $30 billion in taxpayer subsidies to an oil industry that made $200 billion last year,” President Biden said. “Imagine taking all those clean energy jobs away from working-class folks all across America. Imagine turning your back on all those moms and dads living in towns poisoned by pollution and saying ‘sorry, you’re on your own.’ We can’t let that happen.”