The Biden Administration Tackles Environmental Justice

Date posted: 
Thursday, September 8, 2022 - 13:00
Blog poster: 
Doug Farquhar, JD
Email of Blog Poster: 

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NEHA has been long involved with environmental justice. Our position statement, Role of Environmental Health in Addressing Racism as an Environmental Health Issue, recognizes that racism is a threat to public health. The statement promotes environmental justice. Our climate change activities discuss the issue of climate justice. Our Journal of Environmental Health has published several articles regarding environmental justice.

Most recently, we hosted a webinar on August 30, 2022, on environmental justice that featured Dr. Sharunda Buchanan, the interim director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Environmental Justice within the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH).

Bringing on Dr. Buchanan was one of the most important things that the administration has done regarding environmental justice. Dr. Buchanan comes from the National Center for Environmental Health within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where she oversaw environmental justice efforts, health equity innovation, and various other large-scale, priority environmental health initiatives. Her new position allows her to continue these efforts.

At the Office of Environmental Justice, Dr. Buchanan has an ambitious agenda. Her office will:

  • Serve as a department-wide hub for leading initiatives that integrate environmental justice into the HHS mission to improve health in communities across the nation.

  • Protect the health of communities and groups that have been marginalized on the front lines of pollution and other environmental hazards that affect health.

  • Serve as a resource for underserved and overlooked communities.

  • Mobilize environmental justice efforts across the department.

  • Develop and implement an environmental justice strategic plan.

  • Strengthen efforts for the Justice40 Initiative at HHS.

  • Assist and empower communities to address the disparities they face at a local level by providing tools and resources.

Dr. Buchanan’s office is one of several efforts the Biden Administration has taken regarding environmental justice. Other efforts the administration has undertaken include the adoption of Executive Order 14008 and the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, establishes the Justice40 Initiative that mandates at least 40% of climate change, clean energy, and other related environmental justice program funds go to disadvantaged communities. The order also calls on the Council on Environmental Quality to identify disadvantaged communities.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry developed the Environmental Justice Index. The index is a comprehensive, place-based index that identifies and characterizes the cumulative impacts of environmental, social, and chronic health conditions facing disadvantaged communities across the US. The Environmental Justice Index can be used to:

  • Identify and prioritize areas that may require special attention or additional action to improve health.

  • Educate and inform the public about the environmental justice burdens of their communities.

  • Analyze the unique, local factors driving cumulative impacts on health to inform policy and decision-making.

  • Establish meaningful goals and measure progress toward environmental justice and health equity.

Finally, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides even more support to combat environmental injustices. The act will provide:

  • A total of $27 billion for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a clean energy and sustainability accelerator with at least 60% of those funds focused on disadvantaged communities.

  • A total of $315.5 million for air monitoring to enable communities to know exactly what is in the air they breathe, with specific funds for schools and those living near polluting industries.

  • A total of $3 billion in Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants for community-led projects in areas experiencing disproportionate impacts of pollution and climate change.

  • A total of $3 billion for Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants to support neighborhood equity, safety, and affordable transportation access with competitive grants to reconnect communities divided by existing infrastructure barriers, mitigate negative impacts of transportation facilities or construction projects on disadvantaged or underserved communities, and support equitable transportation planning and community engagement activities.

  • A total of $50 million to address air pollution at schools by monitoring and reducing air pollution at public schools in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

  • A total of $87 million for the Low Emissions Electricity Program to support low-income and disadvantaged communities, and offer technical assistance to industry as well as state and local governments as they work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Reinstatement of the Superfund Tax so that industry—not the public—assumes the bill for cleaning up the pollution they caused.

For more information on federal or state environmental justice legislation, please contact NEHA Director of Government Affairs Doug Farquhar at dfarquhar@neha.org.