New Executive Order Jumpstarts Sweeping Environmental Justice Changes
On January 27, 2021, President Biden delivered on several of his central campaign promises in a sweeping executive order, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad Executive Order,” that prioritizes climate issues and environmental justice in a government-wide approach to decision-making, across both agencies and sectors. The Executive Order:
- Establishes a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice and ensure a whole-of-government approach to addressing current and historical environmental injustices, including strengthening environmental justice monitoring and enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services. The new bodies are also tasked with advising on ways to update the Clinton Administration’s Executive Order 12898 of February 11, 1994.
- Creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an Environmental Justice Scorecard.
- Initiates the development of a Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool, building off EPA’s EJSCREEN, to identify disadvantaged communities, support the Justice40 Initiative, and inform decision making across the federal government.
- Directs the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to strengthen enforcement of environmental violations with disproportionate impact on underserved communities through the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance;
- Directs the Attorney General to “consider” renaming the Environment and Natural Resources Division the Environmental Justice and Natural Resources Division, and direct that Division to coordinate with the EPA on a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy;
- Directs the Attorney General to also “consider” creating an Office of Environmental Justice to coordinate environmental justice activities among the Department of Justice and United States Attorneys’ offices nationwide.
The Executive Order illustrates that the Biden Administration will seek to use all the levers of government at its disposal, including purchasing power, investments, taxes, and trade, to further the President’s climate and environmental justice goals. With democratic legislative control, the President may find support for funding his environmental justice initiatives.
Companies should consider how the administration’s government-wide efforts to address climate issues and environmental justice impact corporate-wide operations, not just with respect to permitting and siting, but also in connection with corporate initiatives, policies, and public statements, which may impact overall investor valuation. Proactive approaches might include assessment and revision of Environmental Social Governance policies, the conduct of environmental justice and climate reviews for facilities, and the review of internal audit scopes to build in environmental justice and climate considerations.The Executive Order is available here.
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