Environmental Justice at the Department of Transportation
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Historically, the federal government has played a significant role in isolating and displacing Black and brown communities through highway expansion and the design and distribution of transit resources. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has recognized this history, and committed to ensuring federal transportation funding and policies do not reinforce racial and economic inequality. Now communities are looking to see whether the Secretary’s statements will translate into concrete reforms and meaningful outcomes.
In the first six months of the administration, the Department of Transportation has assumed an early leadership role in implementing Biden’s whole-of-government approach to environmental justice. These efforts include establishing new teams to inform the agency’s Racial Equity plan, and ensuring that agency funds take “racial equity” into account. These and other actions are detailed below.
- June 30: DOT announces recipients of the $905.25 million INFRA grant program (described below). 44% of the funds will go to rural projects.
- April 21: DOT’s Maritime Administration announces $230 million in discretionary grants for states and port authorities. DOT will consider how proposed projects address environmental justice impacts and “advance racial equity, reduce barriers to opportunity, and meet challenges faced by rural areas.” The application deadline is July 30, 2021.
- April 13: DOT announces a revamped $1 billion discretionary grant fund called Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE), prioritizing “improvements to racial equity.” The application deadline is July 12, 2021.
- Feb. 17: For the first time, DOT lists racial equity as a key criteria for selecting recipients of $889 million in discretionary grants under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program.
- July 14: President Biden appoints Leslie Aguilar as Special Assistant to the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.
- April 14: President Biden nominates Meera Joshi to become the deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and Christopher Coes to become Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. Joshi formerly served as Commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, where she focused on accessibility. Coes was vice president of land use and development at Smart Growth America, where he focused on transportation and health equity.
- April 9: President Biden’s FY 2022 budget request includes $110M for a new “Thriving Communities” initiative, which would establish a new office within DOT to help communities address persistent transportation barriers.
Racial Equity Plan
- June 25: DOT hosts an information session summarizing its progress on implementing Biden’s Executive Order on Racial Equity (EO 13895) and soliciting comments on its Request for Information on Transportation Equity Data, due July 22. See the presentation here.
- Feb.: DOT’s newly formed Equity Task Force meets for the first time. The Task Force is made up of senior appointees and is responsible for overseeing DOT’s implementation of Biden’s Executive Order on Racial Equity (EO 13985). DOT also formed an Equity Leadership Team, comprised of DOT career staff who will also be involved in the implementation of EO 13895.