Biden administration funds environmental justice initiative without mentioning race

by Brittany Wilson
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The Biden administration released a screening tool Friday morning to help identify disadvantaged communities affected by environmental hazards in their neighborhoods. However, this tool leaves out race as a factor in deciding where to devote resources. The omission leaves room for major errors and more gaps in health outcomes.

President Joe Biden made combating climate change a large part of his administration.  He signed executive orders to “deliver environmental justice in communities all across America”  during his first week in office. 

Now, the administration leads an initiative promising that 40% of benefits from climate and environment investments would go to disadvantaged communities. On the morning of February 18, this tool went live. It’s expected to be a key component of President Biden’s’  Justice 40 Initiative. 

The screening tool uses 21 factors, including: air pollution, health outcomes and economic status. The goal is to identify communities that are most vulnerable to environmental and economic injustice.

Meanwhile, the decision to exclude race is being harshly criticized by environmental justice advocates.  Robert Bullard is a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

“It’s a major disappointment and it’s a major flaw in trying to identify those communities that have been hit hardest by pollution,” he told reporters.

environmental justice

FILE – EPA Administrator Michael Regan, right, speaks to reporters at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, a Ridgeland based facility near Jackson, Miss., about longstanding water issues that have plagued the city, on Nov. 15, 2021. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a series of enforcement actions to address air pollution, unsafe drinking water and other problems in minority communities in three Gulf Coast states that Administrator Michael Regan visited as part of a “Journey to Justice” tour last fall.(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Biden admin says assigning resources by race would be legally indefensible

Racial disparities and environmental justice have always been an issue in the U.S. They’re directly linked to one another. For instance, Black Tulsa residents called for action on the disparities in asthma mortality,  high led and industrial pollutants in 2019. Researchers say that many American communities are still living with water that isn’t safe to drink and housing that isn’t built to withstand climate change-fueled storms. 

White House environmental representatives stated they “fully acknowledge that the role of racism and race in determining where environmental burdens are and have been in this country.  We have a desire to make sure this tool is legally enduring,” the official told reporters.

“I think both folks within the government and externally have made clear that we cannot be using race as an indicator to guide resource decisions to have that highest threshold for legal defensibility.”

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