Keeping with its commitment to equity across the federal government, the Biden administration released new guidance for the Justice40 Initiative this week. Established in the first few weeks of the Biden presidency, the Justice40 Initiative aims “to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities.”
Chaired by Brenda Mallory, the Council on Environmental Quality was tasked with leading this interagency effort. Speaking with NewsOne, Mallory explained that the program is also a mechanism for integrating Environmental Justice across all the federal government’s work.
“Because climate change and justice are intersected, so closely, because people of color often are the frontline people who are first to be harmed by the impacts of climate change,” explained Mallory. “It’s really important in making sure that these communities and the issues that affect them are front and center in the policies that we’re undertaking.”
An office within the White House, the Council on Environmental Quality, was created in 1969 as a part of the National Environmental Policy Act. The council is the president’s lead advisor on several issues, including climate change, Environmental Justice, oceans and wildlife conservation, and federal sustainability.
Mallory says the new guidance provides agencies with a template for including justice into their programs and decision-making. It also creates a pilot program focusing on 21 programs across federal agencies to measure the success of the Justice40 approach. Stakeholder groups helped selected the 21 areas with stakeholder input. Target programs cover efforts such as reducing the hazard of lead and improving drinking water quality.
“The guidance basically includes sort of accountability and transparency measures, so that we set up a mechanism for people to have to report on what they’re doing, what they’re finding, and where the benefit is being directed,” Mallory continued.
With increasing climate-related disasters, Environmental Justice continues to be a pressing concern for Black and other communities of color. Coupled with infrastructure deficits and fluctuating energy costs, Mallory believes the Justice40 Initiative can pave the way to alleviating some of the conditions experienced by disadvantaged communities.
Some critics raised concerns about the measure of success in terms of benefits versus direct investment benchmarks. But Mallory says the standard provides space for a more tailored approach to individual programs and populations.
“The idea behind benefits is just kind of a recognition that where you deploy dollars, or people, or set up programs isn’t necessarily limited to that specific location,” explained Mallory.
She continued to say the focus is on increasing the positive and beneficial outcomes for historically overlooked communities. “What we’re trying to measure is whether or not there are outcomes on the ground that are positive and beneficial for communities,” she continued. “To make sure that we’re having the on the ground positive impacts, we want to look at the overall benefits more broadly, which will help us determine whether we’re meeting our ultimate goal to affect people on the ground.”
The first Black person to lead the Council on Environmental Quality, Mallory has over two decades of experience in federal service, including working in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Her experience with leading Environmental Justice efforts should be an asset to the Justice40 Initiative.
“We’re trying to make sure that every single person has a fundamental right to drink clean water, to breathe clean air, and to live in a healthy community,” Mallory shared. “And I think the environmental justice initiative all across the government is a really important step in that direction.”