Posted on September 28, 2022

Biden’s White House Seeks to Right Historical Environmental Wrongs With New EPA Office

Hannah Schoenbaum, Associated Press, September 25, 2022

President Joe Biden’s top environment official visited what is widely considered the birthplace of the environmental justice movement Saturday to unveil a national office that will distribute $3 billion in block grants to underserved communities burdened by pollution.

Forty years after a predominantly Black community in Warren County, North Carolina, rallied against hosting a hazardous waste landfill, Michael Regan, the first Black man to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced he is dedicating a new senior level of leadership to the environmental justice movement they ignited.

The Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights — comprised of more than 200 current staff members in 10 U.S. regions — will merge three existing EPA programs to oversee a portion of Democrats’ $60 billion investment in environmental justice initiatives created by the Inflation Reduction Act. The president will nominate an assistant administrator to lead the new office, pending Senate confirmation.

“In the past, many of our communities have had to compete for very small grants because EPA’s pot of money was extremely small,” Regan said in an interview. “We’re going from tens of thousands of dollars to developing and designing a program that will distribute billions. But we’re also going to be sure that this money goes to those who need it the most and those who’ve never had a seat at the table.”

Biden has championed environmental justice as a centerpiece of his climate agenda since his first week in office, when he signed an executive order pledging 40% of the overall benefits from certain federal clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities overwhelmed by pollution.

Now, Regan said, this new office intertwines environmental justice with the central fabric of the EPA, equating it to other top offices like air and water, and cementing its principles in a way that will outlive the administration.

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An April study by the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University found that the majority of Black and Latino neighborhoods that received low scores in a discriminatory federal housing program known as redlining were home to twice as many oil wells as majority white communities. According to the Clean Air Task Force, Black Americans are 75% more likely than white Americans to live near a factory or plant and nearly four times as likely to die from exposure to pollutants.

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