Historically, black and brown and other underserved communities across the Nation have faced environmental injustices, bearing the brunt of toxic pollution; enduring underinvestment in infrastructure and critical services; and suffering disproportionate impacts from climate change. The journey toward environmental justice requires continued commitment, partnerships, and resilience. The Biden-Harris administration is delivering on its campaign promise to confront longstanding environmental injustices and inequities.

Here are seven facts regarding environmental justice:

Fact One: Definition of Environmental Justice

Environmental justice means the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, Tribal affiliation, or disability, in agency decision-making and other Federal activities that affect human health and the environment so that people:

  • Are fully protected from disproportionate and adverse human health and environmental effects (including risks) and hazards, including those related to climate change, the cumulative impacts of environmental and other burdens, and the legacy of racism or other structural or systemic barriers; and
  • Have equitable access to a healthy, sustainable, and resilient environment in which to live, play, work, learn, grow, worship, and engage in cultural and subsistence practices.

Fact Two: Fair Treatment

Fair treatment means that no population bears a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or from the execution of federal, state, and local laws; regulations; and policies.

Fact Three: Meaningful Involvement of All People             

Meaningful involvement requires effective access by all people to decision makers and the ability in all communities to make informed decisions and take positive actions to produce environmental justice.

Fact Four: Fulfilling Our Nation’s Promises

To fulfill our Nation’s promises of justice, liberty, and equality, every person must have clean air to breathe; clean water to drink; safe and healthy foods to eat; and an environment that is healthy, sustainable, climate-resilient, and free from harmful pollution and chemical exposure. Restoring and protecting a healthy environment—wherever people live, play, work, learn, grow, and worship—is a matter of justice and a fundamental duty that the Federal Government must uphold on behalf of all people.

Fact Five: Justice40 Initiative

In January 2020, within days of taking office, President Biden signed Executive Order 14008. The order announced his signature “Justice40 Initiative”, vowing to direct 40% of federal climate and clean funding from new legislation to disadvantaged communities. The categories of investment include: climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of critical clean water and wastewater infrastructure.

Fact Six: Funding for Communities

Funding is made available to communities across the Nation from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the Inflation Reduction Act. For example, in the ARP, Congress designated Environmental Protection Agency funding for grants, contracts, and other agency activities that identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks in underserved communities through a range of local initiatives.

Fact Seven: Executive Order 14096

On April 21, 2023, PresidentBiden issued Executive Order (EO) 14096, Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All, prioritizing environmental justice. The EO established the new Office of Environmental Justice within the White House Council on Environmental Quality. President Biden said, “Environmental justice will be the mission of the entire government woven directly into how we work with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments.”

Many in the Nation have heard the phrase environmental justice. However, more needs to be done to stress the importance of addressing environmental injustices and inequities and highlight the important work the Biden-Harris administration has undertaken to address them.  It is important that the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia support these and forthcoming Biden-Harris administration environmental justice initiatives.

Desi A. Crouther is a member of the Sully Magisterial District and FCDC’s Environmental Committee. He is a former senior executive with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy and is a subject matter expert regarding numerous environmental issues.

Sources for this Article:

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/21/politics/environmental-justice-biden/index.html
  2. https://www.whitehouse.gov/environmentaljustice/justice40/https://www.whitehouse.gov/environmentaljustice/justice40/
  3. https://www.energy.gov/lm/what-environmental-justice
  4. https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice
  5. Executive Order 14096 of April 21, 2023: Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All, Federal Register Vol. 88, No. 80, Wednesday, April 26, 2023
  6. https://www.whitehouse.gov/environmentaljustice/