The White House Council on Environmental Quality is working on the Justice40 Pilot Program which will identify communities that are in need of environmental justice as Biden’s administration had promised to prioritize, reported the Hill. Justice40 holds 21 priority programs to provide aid to disadvantaged communities. However race is not being used as an indicator to decide if a community qualifies for those programs, reported CNN.
Biden’s goal is to deliver 40 percent of Federal investments into climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities, per the White House website. The White House is launching a website with help from the Census to identify regions in the U.S. at risk of environmental injustice, per CNN. The qualifications will be based on eight criteria in socioeconomic and environmental categories. If a community exceeds one of those eight criteria, they will qualify for federal funding, CNN reported.
“Too many American communities are still living with water that isn’t safe to drink, housing that isn’t built to withstand climate change-fueled storms, and too few opportunities to benefit from the nation’s bright and clean future,” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory said. “The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool will help Federal agencies ensure that the benefits of the nation’s climate, clean energy, and environmental programs are finally reaching the communities that have been left out and left behind for far too long.”
Though, some environmental justice advocates pushed back on Justice40 as it only uses income and climate risk as indicators and excludes race, reported CNN. As we know, Black communities are at a greater risk of not only living in polluted areas but also experiencing health complications because of those pollutants.
By the numbers, Black people in at least 19 states are 79% more likely than white people to live near an industrial plant, reported The National Black Environmental Justice Network. Additionally, Black people and people of color are three times more likely than white people to be breathing highly polluted air per the American Lung Association.
So why isn’t race a qualifying factor?
A CEQ official said that while the White House team fully acknowledges “the role of racism and race in determining where environmental burdens are and have been in this country,” it also wants the tool to pass legal muster.
“We have a desire to make sure this tool is legally enduring,” the CEQ official told reporters. “I think both folks within the government and externally have made clear that we cannot be using race as an indicator to guide resource decisions to have that highest threshold for legal defensibility.”
The CEQ official also said the White House wants the tool to be built in a way that reflects how race is a determining factor in finding where pollution is concentrated. Per the White House brief on Justice40, it is acknowledged that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change. But how can Justice40 address environmental racism without addressing race?