Biden signs order prioritizing ‘environmental justice’

President Joe Biden signs an executive order that would create the White House Office of Environmental Justice in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, April 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order that would create the White House Office of Environmental Justice.

The White House said it wants to ensure that poverty, race and ethnic status do not lead to worse exposure to pollution and environmental harm. Biden tried to draw a contrast between his agenda and that of Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. GOP lawmakers have called for less regulation of oil production to lower energy prices, while the Biden administration says the GOP policies would give benefits to highly profitable oil companies and surrender the renewable energy sector to the Chinese.

“Environmental justice will be the mission of the entire government woven directly into how we work with state, local, tribal and territorial governments,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

The order tells executive branch agencies to use data and scientific research to understand how pollution hurts people’s health, so that work can be done to limit any damage. Under the order, executive agencies would be required to inform nearby communities if toxic substances were released from a federal facility.

As part of the announcement, Vice President Kamala Harris is separately traveling to Miami, Florida, to announce $562 million to help protect communities against the impacts of climate change.

The EPA last year formed its own Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, merging three existing EPA programs to oversee a portion of Democrats’ $60 billion investment in environmental justice initiatives created by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

The order puts more pressure on federal agencies — and the White House itself — to deliver on promises the Biden administration has made to clean up the environment in communities of color and poor communities and prepare them for the effects of climate change.

The administration has had mixed results in fulfilling this promise. There has been unprecedented spending on environmental and climate justice issues. But there have also been disagreements over how to gauge which communities are most in need of the funding and the administration’s greenlighting of controversial drilling projects as Republicans have criticized Biden for high gasoline prices.