Last week, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council released final interim recommendations and guidelines for implementing President Biden’s environmental justice goals. The recommendations said initiatives such as renewable energy, clean water programs, and green housing could all quality as federal benefits for “vulnerable communities.” The council is made up of leaders in the environmental justice movement and are meant to advise the Biden Administration, but these recommendations don’t necessarily reflect the Administration’s policy. For example, the recommendations oppose some measures backed by the Biden Administration, such as carbon capture and nuclear power.
In particular, the recommendation includes establishing a grant program that incentivizes community solar projects in cities and rural communities with discounts for low-income households, as well as the installation of energy efficiency upgrades to homes and buildings that would lower the cost of electricity to most individuals in low-income communities. These projects would be funded through the creation of a green bank so that low-interest loans can cover the full costs upfront. It also recommends investments in community resilience projects, including nature-based solutions such as green roofs for the mitigation of extreme heat and clean water infrastructure. ASCE supports policies that promote the use of energy sources and generation methods that allow for equity, affordability, and access by all members of the community and lessen the burden of energy production and distribution on environmental justice communities.
The report also includes many recommendations for the advancement of clean water infrastructure, including the retrofit of lead water pipe infrastructure, infusing $100 billion into the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF and DWSRF) programs, the institutionalization of water and wastewater affordability programs, and developing a robust and public transparent national database to locate lead testing data for schools, cities, and states. In a recent letter to Congressional appropriators, ASCE asked Congress to triple the amount of funding to both the CWSRF and DWSRF programs, and we endorsed H.R. 1915, the Water Quality Protection & Job Creation Act of 2021, which reauthorizes the CWSRF at $40 billion over five years. ASCE has also endorsed the Low Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Emergency Assistance Program, which was created in the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus and funded at $638 million. In ASCE’s public comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year regarding the proposed Lead & Copper rule, we supported the provision that requires a publicly available lead service line inventory.
Transit also received special attention in the report. It is recommended that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) direct transit hub invest to foster economic and small business development in commercial corridors, transition to renewable energy fleets, and expand access in low-income communities. ASCE supports efforts to improve our transit network, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and foster economic growth.
Finally, the recommendations include supporting the funding of frontline and environmental justice communities to organize, convene, and develop climate actions plans that address climate resilience, communication, and prioritize potential climate impacts. ASCE supports government policies that encourage anticipation of and preparation for impacts of climate change on the built environment.
In response to these recommendations, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Brenda Mallory, said that she looks forward to “reviewing these recommendations and to working with my colleagues across the federal government and with Congress to follow through on the President’s commitments to address long-standing environmental injustices.”