In signing the Inflation Reduction Act last month, President Biden said he was delivering on his promise to build an economy that works for working families, including communities that have been underinvested and often exposed to environmental risks.
“For far too long, communities across our country have faced environmental injustices, bearing the brunt of toxic pollution, enduring underinvestment in infrastructure and critical services, and suffering disproportionate impacts from climate change,” he said.
The Inflation Reduction Act advances the “Justice40 Initiative,” which Biden said will deliver benefits of climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities, furthering the cause of environmental justice. The White House has said it would publish an annual Environmental Justice Scorecard detailing agency environmental justice performance.
At the moment, the Scorecard is still a work-in-progress. But it’s coming closer to completion.
What’s the purpose of the Environmental Justice Scorecard?
The Scorecard is being designed to publicly assess the progress the federal government is – or isn’t – making on environmental justice issues. The goal is to establish a baseline assessment of the Federal Government’s efforts and then continually update that assessment to hold the government accountable.
Among other things, the Scorecard is meant to measure progress on the Justice40 Initiative, which is pursing the “goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.”
Advocates say disadvantaged communities, including some within the military, have long borne the brunt of environment degradation and pollution.
An AP review of public documents released this year found that the U.S. Army knew that chemicals had been improperly dumped for decades at Fort Ord in California, where recruits tossed live grenades into canyons, sprayed soapy chemicals on burn pits of scrap metal and solvents and poured toxic substances down drains and into leaky tanks they buried underground. Decades later, several veterans based there were diagnosed with cancers, according to the report.
How is progress on environment goals measured?
That’s the puzzle that the Biden administration has been trying to solve. And they’re still working on it: The February deadline for unveiling a completed Scorecard was missed, but multiple agencies are visibly tackling this question.
A letter sent on May 11 from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) included this information regarding the Scorecard:
“In March 2022, we received the WHEJAC’s phase one recommendations on the Environmental Justice Scorecard. We have shared your recommendations with the IAC, as well as with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and USDS, which have co-responsibility under Executive Order 14008 for developing the Scorecard. At this time, we are reviewing your recommendations and working with the IAC, OMB, and USDS, to determine our next steps in developing an Environmental Justice Scorecard, which the Federal Government will build on and improve, year after year.”
Where do things stand now?
One of those “next steps” has recently been taken: On Aug. 3, the CEQ announced that after receiving those phase-one recommendations from WHEJAC, the administration is now seeking public input on the Scorecard through a request for information (ROI) available in the Federal Register. This public comment period is open through Oct. 3.
Specifically, the public is asked to assess “the vision, framework, and outcomes of the Environmental Justice Scorecard.” To do that, members of the public can visit regulations.gov and enter docket number CEQ-2022-0004. After reading through the ROI, visitors can click on the “comment” button in the upper left and share their thoughts.
As of Sept. 12, just one uploaded comment appeared at regulations.gov for this ROI.
“What the people living in most EJ impacted communities need is more and better-paying jobs. However all the focus on EJ communities, especially enhanced enforcement, serve as a warning to businesses. Essentially, EPA and CEQ put a sign on communities saying ‘Don’t do business here,’” writes a commenter identified as Stephen Smith.
“If the administration really wants to help EJ communities,” Smith continues, “they would provide more of what businesses need, including better security, better education, better infrastructure, lower taxes and a friendly, welcoming environment.”