Environmental Justice at the White House

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The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is best known as the agency responsible for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). (For updates on NEPA, see EELP’s Regulatory Tracker page on NEPA Environmental Review Requirements). CEQ sits within the Executive Office of the President and historically has played a limited role in administrative policy more broadly. However, President Biden’s whole-of-government priority to advance environmental justice often depends on CEQ leadership to direct or coordinate interagency efforts, including federal clean energy and vehicle procurement; implementing Justice40 and supervising the creation of a new Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool; and identifying climate-related financial risk exposure. (For more on these commitments, see our Biden Environmental Action Tracker).

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also plays a crucial role in advancing Biden’s equity priorities, including developing Justice40 guidance, and review and coordination of agencies’ regulatory activities. (For more on OMB’s role in the regulatory process, see our explainer here).

In his January 27 Climate Crisis EO (EO 14008), President Biden also created several new advisory bodies to elevate and inform environmental justice priorities government-wide. While these groups don’t have rulemaking capacities, they nevertheless create new spaces to inject environmental justice principles in federal decision-making at an unprecedented level. These bodies are summarized below. (For more on President Biden’s Week One Executive Orders, see our Week One Report).

  • The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) advises the IAC (described below) and Chair of CEQ. The WHEJAC is distinct from the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), established by EPA in 1993 to advise the EPA Administrator on how to integrate environmental justice concerns into the agency’s programs. While the NEJAC will likely remain focused on integrating EJ priorities at EPA, the WHEJAC advises the White House and other agencies on integrating EJ priorities government-wide. Read the WHEJAC’s charter here.
  • The White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council (IAC) replaced the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, which was established in 1994 and convened by EPA. In EO 14008, President Biden elevated the IAC to the Executive Office of the President, where it is chaired by the head of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The IAC is responsible for developing accountability metrics, recommending updates to EO 12898 and publishing an annual public performance scorecard on its implementation, and creating the Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool.
  • The Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization is chaired by the National Climate Advisor and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and housed within the Department of Energy (DOE). Under EO 14008, the group is tasked with delivering resources, opportunities, and benefits to communities that are economically dependent on coal, oil and gas, and power plants.

The White House

  • Apr. 21, 2023 President Biden issues Earth Day Executive Order 14096, supplementing EO 12898 with a wide range of agency mandates and new initiatives aimed at advancing environmental justice across the federal government. Among other initiatives and mandates, the Order establishes the White House Office of Environmental Justice within CEQ, led by a Federal Chief Environmental Justice Officer, and tasked with coordinating the implementation of environmental justice policy across the federal government. For more information, see EELP’s explainer and analysis of key updates in EO 14096.
  • Jan. 17, 2023 The White House releases its first-ever National Strategy to Advance Equity, Justice, and Opportunity for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Communities,containing action plans from 32 federal agencies. These plans build on the Biden Administration’s efforts to promote safety and equity for AA and NHPI communities. DoI’s plan includes i) standardizing the agency’s use of the Native Hawaiian language in communications, ii) codifying the agency’s policy and processes for meaning consultation with the Native Hawaiian community, and iii) assist U.S. Pacific territories in successfully competing for funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
  • Nov. 8, 2022: The Biden-Harris Administration releases the Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap, an outline of recommendations to advance the United States on a path toward utilizing nature-based solutions to address climate change, nature loss, and inequity. The Administration moreover announces a suite of interagency commitments aligned with the roadmap, including agency actions to ensure over $25 billion in infrastructure and climate funding can support nature-based solutions; a new guide for bringing the power of nature to maximize the value and resilience of military bases; and a new technical working group to better account for nature-based options in benefit cost analysis. The Administration accompanies the roadmap with a Nature-Based Solutions Resource Guide containing over 150 federal examples guidance, resource documents, tools, and technical assistance.
  • Nov. 1, 2022: President Biden signs Partnership to Accelerate Transition to Clean Energy (PACE) with the United Arab Emirates. Seeking to advance the clean energy transition, the agreement will catalyze $100 billion in financing, investment, and other support and deploy 100 gigawatts of clean energy globally by 2035. The partnership espouses four foundational pillars: (1) clean energy innovation, deployment, and supply chains, (2) carbon methane management, (3) nuclear energy, and (4) industrial and transport decarbonization. Together, the U.S. and UAE will convene an expert group to identify priority projects, remove potential hurdles, and measure PACE’s progress in achieving its goal of catalyzing $100 billion in financing, investment, and other support and deploying globally 100 gigawatts of clean energy.

Council on Environmental Qualiy (CEQ)

  • Sep. 30, 2022: The White House extends the Environmental Justice Scorecard public comment period by 30 days. Responses are now due by Nov. 3.
  • Aug. 3, 2022: The White House issues a request for comment on the Environmental Justice Scorecard. Responses are due by Oct. 3.
  • July 27, 2022: CEQ establishes and seeks nominations for two new task forces that will offer input to inform the development of carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration technologies and projects. An objective of the task forces will be to ensure that projects related to these technologies “deliver benefits rather than harms to local communities.” Nominations must be submitted before Sep. 26, 2022. Nominations for the Carbon Dioxide Capture, Utilization and Sequestration Federal Lands and Outer Continental Shelf Permitting Task Force can be submitted here, and for the Carbon Dioxide Capture, Utilization and Sequestration Non-Federal Lands Permitting Task Force here.
  • May 23, 2022: CEQ releases a report submitted to Congress outlining steps taken to implement recommendations from the WHEJAC on Justice40, the Screening Tool, and revisions to executive order 12898.
  • May 5, 2022: The Biden administration announces that Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome will become senior director for environmental justice at CEQ. Dr. White-Newsome previously led the environmental consulting group Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, and was a policy organizer with WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
  • April 18, 2022: President Biden grants a waiver to Jessica Ennis, a former Congressional lobbyist for Earthjustice, to join CEQ as the new director of public outreach. Ennis is filling the position left by David Kieve.
  • Mar. 30, 2022: President Biden’s FY 2023 budget proposal includes increasing the number of full-time staff for CEQ from 14 to 22. 
  • March 9, 2022: CEQ announces a series of public listening sessions and training webinars on the beta version of the Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST). The training webinars will be held at 4pm ET on March 9, 10, and 16. The listening sessions will be held at 4pm ET on March 22 and April 15. Learn more and register for these sessions online here.
  • March 9, 2022: CEQ hires Amanda Aguirre as a senior advisor on environmental justice. Aguirre previously served on the Biden transition term as senior adviser to CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory, and worked at EPA during the Obama administration.
  • Feb. 22, 2022: CEQ issues guidance on advanced techniques for carbon capture and underground storage (CCUS), including requiring federal agencies to “evaluat[e] the impacts of proposed CCUS actions on potential host communities early in the planning process” and providing information on a project’s impacts, costs and benefits in advance of Tribal consultation and stakeholder engagement. The WHEJAC released a report last year that listed carbon capture and storage as among the types of projects that do not actually benefit communities, and thus shouldn’t be included as “benefits” under Justice40. CEQ is accepting comments on the guidance by April 18, 2022. 
  • Feb. 18, 2022: CEQ announces the beta release of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST). Access the beta Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool here (CEJST). People can submit feedback or ideas about data and information reflecting conditions in their community by emailing [email protected]. For more information on the Screening Tool, see our main EJ Tracker page here.
  • Jan. 7, 2022: Dr. Martinez announces that she is leaving CEQ.
  • Dec. 6, 2021: The same day as the first Tribal Nations Summit since 2016, the White House releases a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by 17 federal agencies, including CEQ, committing to increase consultation and collaboration with Tribes in recognition of existing treaty and reserved rights. The MOU includes agency-specific commitmemts including to create a searchable treaty database, and integrate tribal treaty and reserved rights early into agency decision-making, in particular work to address the climate crisis. (See pp. 3-4 of the MOU for more).
  • Nov. 23, 2021: 19 Democratic Attorneys General submit comments on CEQ’s proposed rules implementing NEPA, urging CEQ to repeal the 2020 rule in its entirety and codify specific guidance to analyze the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and effects on environmental justice communities. (For more on CEQ’s proposed rule and the 2020 rule, see EELP’s Regulatory Tracker page)
  • Nov. 15, 2021: A memo from CEQ and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) informs agency heads of the creation of an Interagency Working Group on Indigenous and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK), in partnership with Tribal and Native communities. The working group will facilitate communication between the Federal government and Tribal members, and incorporate ITEK into Federal decision making to inform federal environmental policies.
  • Oct. 7, 2021: (CEQ) announces its “Phase 1” rule revisiting the Trump-era revisions to the NEPA implementing regulations finalized in 2020. (For more on this rule, see EELP’s Regulatory Tracker page). The proposal would restore the 1978 regulatory language in three provisions: (1) regarding the purpose and need of a project in agencies’ environmental statements, correcting 2020 changes that required an agency to limit consideration of the public interest and reasonable alternatives; (2) clarifying that agencies have discretion to go beyond requirements set by CEQ; and (3) restoring the definitions of direct and indirect effects and cumulative impacts, and removing other language that could narrow the scope of NEPA analysis. This proposed change ensures federal agencies consider all reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts associated with their decisions, including climate change and environmental justice impacts. CEQ says it will “more broadly revisit” the 2020 NEPA regulations in a “Phase 2” rule.
  • Sep. 13, 2021: Sharmila Murthy, a Suffolk Law Professor, is appointed senior counsel to CEQ. Professor Murthy is an expert in environmental justice, climate change, and water policy, and co-founded the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation program as a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.
  • April 14, 2021: Brenda Mallory is confirmed as the head of CEQ. Mallory previously served as CEQ’s general counsel under President Obama.
  • Jan. 2021: President-elect Biden names Dr. Cecilia Martinez as senior director for environmental justice at CEQ.

Council on Native American Affairs

  • Dec. 6, 2021: The same day as the first Tribal Nations Summit since 2016, the White House releases a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by 17 federal agencies committing to increase consultation and collaboration with Tribes in recognition of existing treaty and reserved rights. The MOU includes agency-specific commitmemts including to create a searchable treaty database, and integrate tribal treaty and reserved rights early into agency decision-making, in particular work to address the climate crisis. (See pp. 3-4 of the MOU for more).
  • May 27, 2021: Anthony (Morgan) Rodman is named Executive Director of the Council. Rodman served as the Council’s Director during the Obama administration, and is a member of the Cherokee Nation and Osage Nation.
  • April 23, 2021: The Council holds its first meeting since it last met in 2016 under President Obama. The Council is chaired by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. 

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC)

Working Group on Revitalizing Coal and Power Plant Communities

Other Interagency Efforts

  • July 21, 2022: The White House announces it is reviving the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR), which includes the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Defense departments. The group will focus on the administration’s “America the Beautiful” program, which seeks to set aside 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters in a natural state, and create equitable access to nature. The council was established in 2011 and disbanded under President Trump. 
  • Sep. 20, 2021: The White House announces new agency initiatives to protect Americans from heat-related illnesses, both in the workplace and at home, coordinated by the White House Interagency Working Group on Extreme Heat. These include OSHA’s development and enforcement of new workplace heat standards, providing cooling assistance via HHS and EPA programs, and a new EPA analysis of the heat impacts on socially vulnerable groups.
  • July 30, 2021: The White House’s Coastal Resilience Interagency Working Group (IWG) met this week to discuss the vital role coastal communities play in mitigating climate change. CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory highlighted that federal funding and access to data is crucial for disadvantaged and historically underserved communities and NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad underscored the necessity for equitable investment in coastal communities and infrastructure.