White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council Holds First Meeting

During the past week, President Biden’s focus on environmental justice continued to take shape with the announcement by the White House of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) membership and the WHEJAC’s first meeting.


On March 29, the White House announced the 26 members of the WHEJAC — a council established by Executive Order 14008 and formed to “ensure that [the] administration’s work is informed by the insights, expertise, and lived experience of environmental justice leaders from across the nation.” The members represent diverse geographic regions and include several notable environmental justice advocates such as Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the “father of environmental justice,” who is a professor in the Department of Urban Planning & Environmental Policy, Texas Southern University; Catherine Flowers, founder, Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice; Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice; and Dr. Nicky Sheats, director, Center for Urban Environment, Thomas Edison State University.

The WHEJAC, which is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is expected to advise the Council on Environmental Quality and White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and provide recommendations on ways to update Executive Order 12898 — the executive order issued by President Clinton to address environmental justice in minority and low-income populations.

WHEJAC Meeting

When the newly formed WHEJAC met for the first time on March 30, Michael Regan, Administrator, EPA, opened the meeting by noting the prominence of environmental justice in the Biden administration — and that the WHEJAC will complement, not replace, EPA’s statutory authority to regulate air emissions. Administration representatives then briefed WHEJAC members on a variety of topics, including the Justice40 Initiative, Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, and Energy Communities Interagency Working Group.

Candance Vahlsing, Associate Director for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Science, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Shalanda Baker, Deputy Director for Energy Justice, Department of Energy, discussed the Justice40 Initiative — a plan to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of climate investments to disadvantaged communities and inform equitable research, development, and deployment across the federal government. Eligible Justice40 investments include those relating to climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and development of critical clean water infrastructure. OMB is developing interim guidance for Justice 40 implementation.

Lucas Brown, U.S. Digital Service, provided an update on the Climate and Economic Justice Screening tool, a tool being developed to identify communities affected by the multiple stresses of climate change, other environmental effects, and economic and racial inequality. The U.S. Digital Service’s core value in developing the tool is to “design with users, not for them,” and it plans to include ways for environmental justice communities to self-identify in the tool’s database. The target date to roll out the tool is July 27, 2021.

Jahi Wise, Senior Advisor for Climate Policy and Innovation, White House Climate Office, discussed the Energy Communities Interagency Working Group. The administration has formed the group to coordinate the identification and delivery of federal resources needed to revitalize the economies of coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities. In addition, the working group will focus on recommendations for environmental justice communities that have been affected by energy infrastructure.

WHEJAC members will join one of three working groups: the Justice40 Initiative, Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, and executive order working group.

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