The Biden administration on Friday released a verification tool to help identify disadvantaged communities that have long suffered environmental hazards, but it will not include race as a factor in deciding where to allocate resources.
Administration officials told reporters that excluding race would make projects less likely to cause legal problems and would be easier to defend, even if they acknowledged that race was a major factor in terms of survivors environmental injustice.
This decision was strongly challenged by members of the environmental justice community.
“This is a serious disappointment and a serious mistake in trying to identify those communities most affected by the pollution,” said Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston and a member of the White House. Environmental Justice Advisory Board.
President Joe Biden did combating climate change priority of his administration and promised in extensive executive order to “ensure environmental justice in communities across America”. The order, signed in his first week in office, aims that 40% of the total benefits from investing in climate and the environment will go to vulnerable communities. The tool is a key component for the implementation of this so-called Justice40 initiative.
Brenda MalloryThe chairman of the White House Environment Quality Council said the tool would help direct federal investment in climate, clean energy and environmental improvement to communities “that have been abandoned and abandoned for too long.”
Catherine Coleman Flowers, a member of the advisory board that worked on a working group that gave recommendations to the Biden administration regarding the instrument, said she agreed with the move to exclude race as an indicator.
She said this tool is a good start, which will hopefully improve over time, and that it is better than creating a tool that includes racial race as a factor and will then be overturned by the Supreme Court. She said “race is a factor, but race is not the only factor.”
“Being marginalized in other ways is a factor,” she said.
The screening tool uses 21 factors, including air pollution, health outcomes, and economic status, to identify communities that are most vulnerable to environmental and economic injustice.
But the omission of race as a factor contradicts deep-seated scientific research that shows that race is the biggest factor for those who experience damage to the environment, environmental justice experts say.
“It was a political decision,” said Sakabi Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “It wasn’t a scientific solution or a data-based solution.” Wilson studied the distribution of pollutants in the environment and helped develop cartographic tools, such as the one published by the Environmental Quality Council on Friday.
This is not the first such tool to exist in the United States or even in the federal government. California, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey have had such tools for years. And the Environment Agency has a similar EJ Screen tool. Many of these screening tools include some information about the racial composition of communities along with data on the environment and health.
The public has 60 days to use the tool and give feedback on it. The Environmental Quality Council also announced Friday that the National Academies of Science, Technology and Medicine are working to launch a study of existing tools.
Follow Drew Churchley on Twitter: @drewcostley.
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