The Biden administration announced a new environmental justice initiative over the weekend, with $3 billion in block grants going to communities and neighborhoods hardest hit by pollution.
Michael Regan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights will play a leading role in the agency and will be made up of more than 200 current EPA staff members who will be located in 10 regions. and will be led by an assistant administrator to be appointed by President Biden and confirmed by the United States Senate.
Regan, the first black man to hold the office, made the announcement in Warren County, North Carolina, near the site of a protest against a toxic landfill 40 years ago praised by civil rights leaders for helping fuel the national movement for environmental justice.
EPA’s announcement comes in light of the recognition that low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be harmed by climate disasters and pollution, and that it is time for solutions.
“This is a much-needed step toward achieving environmental justice,” said Joan Casey, an environmental health researcher at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in an email. “We must start with communities and progress is difficult without federal funding and support.”
A 2017 to study by the Clean Air Task Force and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found that black Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than white Americans. They are also 75 percent more likely to live in communities adjacent to industrial or service facilities that are polluting and affected by their noise, chemical emissions, odors, and traffic.
to april to studyfor which Casey was a co-investigator, found that historically red-flagged neighborhoods were more likely to be home to oil and gas wells, contributing to higher rates of respiratory illness and other public health disparities among residents.
The creation of the office is part of the broader climate and environmental policies of the Biden administration. The Reducing Inflation Act, the administration’s most significant climate change and environmental legislation to date, invests billions of dollars in climate and energy programs such as electric charging infrastructure and Justice40 Initiative.
Jean Flemma, co-founder of Urban Ocean Laboratorypart of a national coalition of coastal community environmental organizationsbelieves the new office will give communities most affected by climate change a better opportunity to express their concerns directly to the government.
“Today, I am more inspired than ever by the deep and collaborative work being done to ensure ocean and environmental justice becomes a reality,” she said in an email.