Environmental Justice at Other Agencies

Click here to return to EELP’s Federal Environmental Justice Tracker.

As part of Biden’s whole-of-government approach to tackling climate change and environmental injustice, non-environmental agencies are playing an increasingly important role. For example, USDA is working to develop a new revolving loan fund to assist owners of heirs’ property, while FEMA is engaging in an agency-wide review of its programs to determine how to best integrate equity principles. FERC is finally building out its Office of Public Participation, while HHS has established a new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. Some of these programs were explicitly mandated by President Biden via executive order; others are the result of community-based advocacy or discretionary decisions made by agency leadership.

These lists are not comprehensive. We include only those efforts with an explicit connection to addressing climate and environmental justice, and will be tracking these agencies less actively than those listed on the main EJ Tracker page.

Army Corps of Engineers (ACE)

  • April 27: President Biden nominates former Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor as assistant secretary for the Army for Civil Works, and thus responsible for overseeing the Army Corps’ non-military programs, including permitting for pipelines and mines. Connor is an expert in Federal Indian Law and an enrolled member of the Taos Pueblo. During his nomination hearing on July 14, Connor told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that “it’s not equitable” to only consider the economic value of projects that are proposed in overburdened communities.

Health and Human Services (HHS)

  • July 22: HHS begins hiring to fill two to five positions in the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity.
  • Jan 27: President Biden orders the HHS Secretary to establish an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. The order also directs the Secretary to establish an Interagency Working Group to Decrease Risk of Climate Change to Children, the Elderly, People with Disabilities, and the Vulnerable.
  • Aug. 30 In response to President Biden’s EO, HHS establishes the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) to address climate change and health equity. OCCHE is tasked with several specific actions including, for example, identifying communities who are disproportionately impacted, addressing health disparities by climate impacts, assisting with regulatory efforts to reduce GHG and criteria air emissions throughout the health care sector, and fostering innovation in climate adaptation and resilience for disadvantaged communities.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • June 25: HUD publishes a proposed rule recodifying the 2013 “Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard” rule.
  • June 18: Biden admin convenes a HUD-led interagency task force to review the home appraisal process and recommend regulatory and legislative steps to reduce racial disparities. Bloomberg.
  • June 10: HUD issues an interim final rule reinstating the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which Trump repealed. The rule allows HUD to suspend housing grants to municipalities that do not actively combat housing discrimination.

 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

  • August: FEMA updates its Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide to “create additional flexibilities that ensure access to assistance is equitably provided to all survivors.”
  • Aug 4-5: FEMA will host a Command and General Staff “Equity Stand Down” to train staff on civil rights law and how to enhance and incorporate equity into tactical decision-making.
  • July 21: FEMA announces the formation of an internal Equity Enterprise Steering Group to explore how to make agency programs more accessible. The agency is also planning to develop its 2022-2026 Strategic Plan through a “robust” stakeholder engagement process. The announcement does not say when that process will begin.
  • July 1: Advocates criticize FEMA’s selected grantees for the 2020 Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) funding cycle. The program’s largest grant of $50 million went to Menlo Park, California, headquarters for Facebook and Google. A study by Headwaters Economics found the majority of BRIC funds will go to coastal, metropolitan, and high-capacity communities.
  • June 9: Secretary Mayorkas signs a revised environmental justice strategy for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The strategy outlines five goals: (1) expand Department-wide awareness of EJ considerations; (2) better integrate EJ principles ito mitigation, adaptation, and resilience programs; (3) strengthen community outreach; (4) expand collaboration with interagency partners; and (5) integrate EJ principles into DHS’s climate change initiatives.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

For more on FERC and other issues related to the electricity sector,  visit EELP’s Electricity Law Initiative.

  • September 9: President Biden announces his intent to nominate Willie Phillips Jr., a Washington utility regulator, to fill the remaining open seat at FERC. If approved by the Senate, the majority of members on FERC will be Democratic appointees. Phillips Jr. was nominated over the objections of many advocates, including over 490 environmental, tribal, and community-based organizations that had previously sent President Biden a letter naming three preferred nominees committed to environmental and energy justice. 
  • June 24: FERC announces its first steps in establishing an Office of Public Participation (OPP), which Congress first authorized in 1978. These steps include hiring a director, deputy director, and administrative staff member by the end of FY 2021. The office should be fully operational by the end of FY 2024. See FERC’s full report on establishing the OPP here.
  • May 20: FERC announces the appointment of Montina Cole as its first senior counsel for environmental justice and equity.
  • February 16: FERC Chair Richard Glick announces a new senior position to focus on environmental justice and equity issues and ensure such concerns are given full consideration. 

Department of Agriculture (USDA)

  • September 16: President Biden announces his nomination of Margo Schlanger to be USDA Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. Schlanger, a former civil rights official in the Obama administration, is currently a University of Michigan Law professor.
  • June 28: USDA Secretary Vilsack announces Randy Moore will be the new Chief of the Forest Service, the first African American to hold the role. Moore previously served as regional forester for the Pacific Southwest.
  • May 28: USDA submits a final rule to OIRA that would establish new revolving loan funds to help resolve ownership and succession concerns on farmland with multiple owners (i.e. heirs’ property). OIRA completed review of the rule on July 22.