Advocates for environmental justice see 2022 as a year that will make or break the movement for environmental justice.
The President Joe Biden’s Administration launched several large initiatives in 2021. These initiatives included more money to clean up Superfund sites and improve drinking water quality, as well as a screening tool that will help to highlight environmental justice communities. Advocates say that these initiatives must be implemented, especially in marginalized and poor communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution.
Advocates say Biden must prove that he doesn’t forget Black and other minorities voters who were critical to his win in 2020. They fear that Republicans could take control in one or both of the chambers and push for spending cuts, which could threaten equity efforts.
If we don’t get this stuff together quickly, you’re going to be marching into midterms with a lot people saying, OK. Show us the results,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali (ex-head of EPA’s environmental justice office).
Ali believes that the administration should choose approximately 500 U.S. projects10 from each state to showcase results so that they are not forgotten and valued.
Bruce Buckheit, an ex-Director of Environmental Protection Agency air enforcement, said that it takes time to create strategies, conduct inspections, and begin enforcement work. He noted that we should be seeing the first results of their efforts after 11 months.
He said that the EPA must get back to the business of overseeing state inspections and managing oversight.
Administrative Actions Required
Advocates said that better coordination with regional offices in justice initiatives and following up on promises for goals like the screening tool should be top priorities of Biden for marginalized communities.
Clifford Villa, a University of New Mexico professor of environmental justice, said that EPA enforcement actions can also be a significant improvement in the community that is traditionally underserved if there are water quality violations, drinking water violation violations, hazardous waste violations or air pollution.
He said that administrative action can often address all of these issues in a significant way. There is nothing that can hold EPA back except will.
The EPA, at a year’s end SummaryIts achievements, including its ability to leverage enforcement to protect pollution-prone communities, were a few of its highlights. It cited its May order to close down a U.S. Virgin Islands refining plant, which was the fourth time it had moved to halt operations under Section 303(Clean Air Act).
Advocates argue that Biden must demonstrate progress for his Justice40 initiative, which aims at directing 40% of clean energy, climate, or other funding to communities who are suffering disproportionately from decades and decades of air, chemical, and water pollution.
Catherine Flowers, an activist from Alabama who founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, stated that she would like to see the government assume the responsibility for ensuring that everyone has access to sanitation and clean drinking water for the next year.
The administration is creating additional tools to aid agencies in determining which types of funding, policies, and projects would count toward the 40% goal. This is based on interim guidance that was issued in July by the Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality.
The guidance created 21 pilot programs at EPA or other agencies to direct benefits to disadvantaged areas and to provide a model for other agencies.
After a beta test, the Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool is expected to be released in 2022. Flowers said that it is a priority to ensure that Biden’s efforts to help overburdened people realize the 40% benefit. It will also help identify the most in dire need communities.
The administration is also expected to release policies to implement its Environmental Justice Scorecard by mid-2022 in order to measure each agency’s commitment to more equitable treatment for people of color and polluted areas.
Biden’s January 2021 executive order regarding climate and environmental equity directed OMB to publish the annual scorecard no later than February 2022. OMB declined any update on the timetable.
The administration failed to secure two senior EPA leads in 2020, one of which needed Senate confirmation, to improve enforcement and environmental justice programs.
The first, to be named by Michael Regan, EPA Administrator, would place an environmental justice advisor in the Office of the Administrator. This would raise the issue among a small number of leaders who are focused on science, civil right, congressional affairs, and other issues.
A second position, an assistant administrator for environmental justice, would head up a newly established national office. This would essentially reorganize the existing Office of Environmental Justice.
A spokesperson for the EPA said that Regan will soon settle on an EJ advisor. He said that the Senate will need to approve the separate post. This will depend on Congress’ progress on fiscal 2022 government-wide spending initiatives, which includes EPAs.
Get Better Holdup
The bipartisan infrastructure package that Congress Democrats signed in 2021 includes billions of additional funding for clean-water projects, lead removal, and other projects that benefit poorer neighborhoods.
They point out that more resources would benefit communities from Biden’s Build back Better tax and spending package. The Senate has blocked the package. It faces uncertain prospects.
We seem to be getting bipartisan backing for funding to address pollution which disproportionately impacts marginalized populations, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. Bloomberg Law.
Cardin stated that the success of the infrastructure package shows that bipartisan support can continue addressing environmental justice needs through the annual allocation process.
He said that additional environmental equity provisions, such as a federal green bank known to the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator (the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator), are dependent on the passage of Build Back better.
Villa stated that it would be a great help to communicate clearer messages and guidelines to regional EPA offices about environmental justice, not just agency slogans, in order for some of these goals to be realized.
Villa stated that people need to go to these communities and take in the air and see what’s going on. While it might seem that all the industrial facilities comply with Clean Air Act permits, the cumulative impact on a particular neighborhood can be very significant.
Biden’s record in curbing the U.S. dependence on fossil fuels is mixed, according to Michael Dorsey (co-founder of the California-based Center for Environmental Health) and partner in Ibersun Solar firm. The administration has been criticised for large oil and gas leases being sold on federal land.
Dorsey called on the government to impose an embargo against policy schizophrenia.
They continue to give fossil fuel subsidies one day, and the next they make proclamations for renewable energy and green transmission infrastructure and infrastructure. We have to end this cycle.