The White House’s top environmental justice official is stepping down, one year after President Joe Biden was inaugurated with an ambitious plan to help disadvantaged people and reform policies that have hurt them in the past.
Cecilia Martinez, the senior director for environment justice at the Council for Environmental Quality, will be leaving Friday. This spotlight shines a light on both the administration’s successes and the promises still to be fulfilled.
Martinez said Wednesday that it was a difficult decision. She explained that after months of work on Biden’s environment policy, she needed some time to rest and be with her loved ones.
Her departure from Congress and the White House is mourned by colleagues. She played a key role in bringing disadvantaged communities into President Biden’s climate and environmental policies.
Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz) stated that her credibility in terms environmental issues, and in particular environmental justice issues, is going to be lost.
Martinez helped Joe Biden develop his environmental justice agenda during his campaign by setting up meetings with Bidens team as well as key environmental justice officials from across the country. As part of Biden’s transition team, Martinez was responsible for reviewing the Council on Environmental Quality and was ultimately appointed the highest ranking official in the administration on environmental justice.
Cecilia was the heart, soul and mind of the most ambitious environmental justice agenda that a President has ever adopted, Brenda Mallory (chair of the Council of Environmental Quality) said in a statement. She is a tireless and effective advocate for communities that have been suffering from pollution for too long and are often left out of decisions that affect them.
The administration has attempted to use executive orders and legislation to direct resources towards disadvantaged communities, create tools to monitor climate and economic justice, and pass regulations to clean the environment.
Some of this was achieved. The White House’s Justice40 initiative required that 40% of federal investments in green and sustainable infrastructure be made to benefit disadvantaged communities.
The administration also created an online mapping tool to help identify the most in need of these investments.
The Biden administration restored many of the environmental regulations that were lost under the Trump administration. These included rules that limit the amount toxic waste generated by coal plants., require extensive environmental reviewsProtect endangered wildlife and prevent major infrastructure projects.
Martinez was key to much of the progress, but she along with others at White House insist that there is still much work to be done. She stated that everyone she has ever worked with at the federal level is keen to see communities hold us accountable.
Biden’s first year as an administration was reflected on by environmental justice leaders from across the country. They expressed frustration and disappointment at the lack of progress in protecting communities most vulnerable to climate change, most polluted, and those with the lowest access to environmental benefits, such as clean water, and the least exposed to pollution.
Juan Jhong-Chung (climate justice director at the non-profit Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition) stated that overall, there was some progress in advancing environmental justice priorities through executive actions more than legislation. However, our communities still await the final results.
Some money from $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure billSpend your money on projects such as cleaning up toxic waste sites.
Biden’s Build Back Better bill will likely not include much more investment that would have gone towards climate justice initiatives in frontline community. This is a signature policy of this administration. Moderate Democrats have called for cuts, and it’s unclear what, or if any, part, of the bill may ultimately pass.
Dallas Goldtooth (campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network) stated that Biden’s promises to environmental justice were too ambitious and that the administration is not sincere in achieving its ambitions.
He also stated that the Biden administration failed to protect indigenous communities from pipeline projects like the Line3 or Dakota Access. Both oil pipelines were met by protests and legal challenges by indigenous and environmental groups, who claimed that the pipelines could pose a threat to the water and air quality of their communities.
The Line3 pipeline permits were not cancelled by the Biden administration.To keep the Dakota Access pipeline free of obstructionWhile the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers carried out an environmental review.
Many environmental justice advocates are skeptical that this administration can keep its ambitious promises given the mixed results of Bidens first year of Bidens environmental Justice Agenda.
It’s been disappointing, Goldtooth admitted. I have friends in the administration, and I cheer them on. But I also feel for them when they are struggling.
Martinez, a long-standing environmental justice advocate from New Mexico, has not been replaced by the White House. His research focused on radiation poisoning and he founded the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, an organization based in Minneapolis.
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