Federal Environmental Justice Tracker

Return to the Environmental Justice & Equity page.

This tracker is designed to provide up-to-date information on the Biden administration’s environmental justice commitments, and progress made on those commitments. Scroll down for agency-specific updates and to learn more about the administration’s whole-of-government initiatives, including Justice40 and the Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool.

For background information and tips on how to participate in federal rulemaking processes, including tips on writing public comments and scheduling EO 12866 meetings with OIRA, visit our Public Participation Resources Page.

We are also tracking agency actions stemming from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which includes significant funding for environmental justice priorities. Read our analysis of the IRA’s EJ provisions, including a comprehensive table breaking down those provisions.

Learn more about our work analyzing the Biden administration’s environmental and climate actions on ourTracking the Biden-Harris Climate & Environmental Agenda page, and our Regulatory Tracker.

Thank you to our current tracker research assistants: Ethan McKenzie, Connor Morgan, Grant Pace, and Caroline Walker.

And thanks to our past tracker research assistants: Logan Campbell, Olivia den Dulk, Noelle Musolino, and Layla Rao!

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Agency Action Timelines

Click below to learn more about how each agency is responding to President Biden’s environmental justice and equity mandates. Each agency page includes opportunities for public participation; changes in personnel and office structures; major funding decisions, including Justice40 allocations; enforcement of environmental and civil rights violations; and regulatory actions affecting pollution and toxics exposure in frontline communities. The White House has also launched a website documenting the administration’s EJ initatives.

Whole-of-Government Initiatives

In his first week in office, President Biden created several environmental justice initiatives and mandates that apply to all federal agencies, designating signficiant funding and agency resources to addressing the needs of overburdened and marginalized communities. Scroll down to learn more and get the latest updates on these initiatives.

For a more detailed overview of these and other enviornmental justice mandates issued via executive order, visit our Week One Page. You can also find a narrative summary of progress made on these goals within the first 100 days in our 100 Days Report

Justice40 and the EJ Scorecard

Background

Under the Climate Crisis Executive Order, President Biden established the Justice40 Initative, which requires agencies to direct 40 percent of the “benefits” of federal climate programs to go to “disadvantaged communities.” Covered programs include those addressing clean energy investments, transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and clean water infrastructure. The White House issued interim implementation guidance on July 20, 2021, offering definitions for “disadvantaged communities” and identifying 21 pilot programs across nine agencies, including four programs at EPA. 

On May 23, 2022, the White House announced it has released over $29 billion in funding consistent with Justice40, including $500 million to electrify school buses, $1.3 billion to remediate and reduce pollution, and $725 million to reclaim abandoned mine lands.

What’s Next

Currently, there are 518 programs covered by the Justice40 Initiative across 19 agencies. For the full list of covered programs, click here

On April 21, 2023, the Biden administration released Phase One of the Environmental Justice Scorecard, which provides a baseline assessment of agencies’ EJ-related actions in 2021 and 2022.

The Biden administration has also released Version 1.0 of its Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool (described below), which defines which communities qualify as “disadvantaged” based on various climate, public health, transportation and energy justice indicators.

In addition to the Screening Tool, some agencies are using their own definition of disadvantaged communities (DACs). Learn more about these definitions below:

For agency-specific funding decisions related to Justice40, click on the Agency Action Timelines above.

Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST)

CEQ announced the release of Version 1.0 of the Screening Tool on Nov. 22, 2022. Access the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool here.

Some agencies have developed their own definition of “disadvantaged community” to implement Justice40. For those definitions, click “Justice40” above.

Background

The Climate Crisis Executive Order directed the CEQ Chair to create a “geospatial Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool” and publish annual interactive maps highlighting “disadvantaged communities.” The Screening Tool was developed by the United States Digital Service, and defines “disadvantaged communities” for purposes of the Justice40 Initiative (above). The tool expands on EJSCREEN, EPA’s current environmental justice mapping tool, and considers several “burden” indicators, including energy burdens, air quality, higher education enrollment, formerly redlined census tracts, expected agricultural loss, and traffic proximity. However, unlike California’s screening tool CalEnviroScreen, the Screening Tool does not consider the cumulative effects of these indicators.

Notably, the Screening Toold does not use race and ethnicity data to define “disadvantaged communities.” This approach seeks to avoid legal challenges arguing that the Tool intentionally discriminates on the basis of race and therefore violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. (White farmers used a similar argument in June, 2021 to block a USDA loan relief program that provided debt relief to farmers that had been “subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice.” Three federal district courts have agreed with the farmers’ arguments and stopped the program from going into effect). However, the Screening Tool does consider formerly redlined census tracts.

  • Jan. 27, 2023: OMB, CEQ, and the White House Climate Office direct federal agencies to begin using the CEJST to identify geographically defined “disadvantaged communities” for all Justice40-covered programs and for programs where a statute directs resources toward disadvantaged communities, such as the Inflation Reduction Act. Agencies must transition to using the CEJST by Oct. 2023.
  • Jan. 24, 2023: An analysis by E&E News finds that the Biden Administration’s race-neutral CEJST strategy – which omitted racial and ethnic indicators in order to avoid legal challenges – nevertheless succeeds in prioritizing minority communities that have historically experienced disproportionate environmental injustice for federal funding. The demographic factors that were used – such as income levels and exposure to pollution – are, in many cases, closely correlated with race.
  • Nov. 22, 2022: CEQ releases Version 1.0 of the Screening Tool, including new qualifying criteria based on public comment. Version 1.0 includes an additional 3,781 communities as compared to the beta version, including all Tribal Nations, and new burden indicators, such as redlining data, transportation barriers, and projected climate risks. While Version 1.0 does not include race explicitly as a qualifying “burden”, the tool now displays race and age demographics for census tracts.
  • April 21, 2022: CEQ extends the public comment period for the Screening Tool until May 25.
  • March 9, 2022: CEQ announces a series of public listening sessions and training webinars on the beta version of Screening Tool. 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.
  • Feb. 18, 2022: CEQ announces the beta release of the Screening ToolAccess the beta Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool here. People can submit feedback or ideas about data and information reflecting conditions in their community by emailing [email protected]. Users can also access the tool’s open source code here.
  • Dec. 2, 2021: In a press release, the White House says it plans to release a beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool “in the next few weeks” which “will be continuously updated and refined based on public feedback and research.”
  • Nov. 30, 2021: A CEQ spokesperson says that, while the Tool is four months behind schedule, they are in the process of developing a beta or “Phase 1 version” that will be publicly available in the next few weeks providing “nationally consistent, up-to-date and high-quality data, and will be updated based on feedback from the public.”
  • May 13, 2021: The WHEJAC submits its interim final recommendations to CEQ regarding the Screening Tool, including that the Tool integrate local community knowledge; acknowledge data gaps and uncertainties; and enable timely data sharing across relevant federal agencies. The WHEJAC releases its final report and cover letter on May 21.

Agency Equity Plans

See federal agencies’ Equity Plan Snapshots on the White House website here. Key agencies’ full-length equity plans are linked below, with all plans linked here.

Background

Biden’s Racial Equity Executive Order sought to address underserved communities’ unequal access to federal funding by requiring each agency to assess its programs and policies to determine “whether underserved communities and their members face systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities available pursuant to those policies and programs.” The order then required agencies to provide a report to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy within 200 days (by Aug. 8, 2021) identifying barriers to accessing funds, benefits and services; procurement and contracting opportunities; and new policies, regulations, or guidance that may be necessary to enhance that access. These programmatic reviews are an important first step to enable agencies to meet the goals of the Justice40 Initiative.

Several agencies publicly announced new offices or personnel to help them craft their equity plans. The Department of Transportation created a new Equity Leadership Team and Equity Task Force to implement EO 13895 across six areas, while EPA was reportedly developing its plan as of March 31, 2021. DOT and other agencies, including USDA, DOT, FEMA, NASA, and OMB issued requests for information seeking public comment on how they can better integrate equity considerations into existing programs.

On Feb. 15, 2023, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The order requires that federal agencies assemble agency equity teams led by a senior official, to support equity training and leadership development for staff. The order also creates a new White House Steering Committee on Equity to coordinate government-wide efforts and review the implementation of agencies’ equity plans, among other requirements.

Also, on Aug. 6, 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) submitted a report identifying methods to assess equity, finding that administrative burdens exacerbate inequity, the federal government must expand opportunities for meaningful stakeholder engagement, and that long-term change will require internal cultural changes. (Read the White House’s summary here). To inform its report, OMB issued a RFI seeking public comment. See OMB’s summary of responses here and read individual comments here.

Agency equity plans released

On April 14, 2022, the White House released agencies’ Equity Plan Snapshots, including a summary of the administration’s efforts to address equity issues in its first year. Agencies’ full-length equity plans are provided below.

Update to Executive Order 12898

President Biden issued the “Executive Order on Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All” (EO 14096) on April 21, 2023.

Read EELP’s analysis of the order here, and see our 2-page comparison of Order 12898 and 14096 here.

Background

Executive Order 12898, signed by President Clinton in 1994, requires all agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of [their] mission.” However, the order is not judicially enforceable, includes no metrics or reporting mechanisms, and has not been significantly updated since 1994.

In his Climate Crisis Executive Order, President Biden ordered the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council to recommend changes to Executive Order 12898 within 120 days (by May 27, 2021). The Council includes representatives from the Attorney General’s office and the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, HUD, Interior, Labor, and Transportation, plus EPA.

The WHEJAC publicly submitted its own proposed revisions to Order 12898 to CEQ on May 21, 2021 as a final report and cover letter. In that report, the WHEJAC offered new definitions for key terms including “environmental justice community,” “just treatment,” and “meaningful participation”; outlined new mandates for the Council; and drafted new agency mandates regarding environmental assessment, monitoring, and reporting among other provisions.  

CURRENT STATUS

On April 21, 2023, President Biden issued the long-awaited update: “Executive Order on Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All” (EO 14096). Unlike EO 12898, the new Order defines “environmental justice”, and clarifies agencies’ obligation to “identify, analyze, and address disproportionate and adverse human health and environmental effects (including risks) and hazards of Federal activities.” The updated Order also includes mandates on the development and integration of disproportionate and cumulative impact research and analysis into agency decisionmaking, and measures to bolster meaningful engagement by impacted and overburdened communities.

The order also requires federal agencies to publish an Environmental Justice Strategic Plan, and to regularly update and assess progress on those plans. On Nov. 3, 2023, CEQ released a Strategic Planning to Advance Environmental Justice template to guide agencies in crafting their Strategic Plans.

While the EO cannot impose new legally enforceable obligations on agencies, it has the potential to impact how agencies implement their obligations under existing laws, including rulemakings, policy development, and enforcement.

Because these changes have been made via executive order, a subsequent administration is free to rescind or revise those changes.