Racial Equity Executive Order Deepens Federal Environmental Justice Efforts

Racial Equity Executive Order Deepens Federal Environmental Justice Efforts

Blog ESG Epicenter

The Biden-Harris Administration continues to build on early efforts to integrate environmental justice with federal agency actions through a new executive order, Executive Order 14091, Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government (the Executive Order), signed last week. Through the new Executive Order, the Biden Administration continues to institutionalize environmental justice considerations in federal agency decision-making processes by establishing equity teams across nearly two dozen federal agencies, standing up a new White House equity committee, and requiring agencies to produce annual reports documenting efforts to benefit underserved communities. The Executive Order aims to build environmental justice and equity considerations in federal agency infrastructure through durable systems that will not be easily unwound.

As described in prior WilmerHale alerts (e.g., here and here), advancing environmental justice has been a priority since the Biden-Harris Administration’s earliest days. In response to White House directives, agencies across the administration—including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice—have taken action to prioritize disadvantaged communities through the Biden-Harris Administration’s “whole-of-government” approach to environmental justice.

The Executive Order establishes three key oversight and governance mechanisms to advance environmental justice and racial equity. First, it provides equity-focused leadership across the federal government by establishing Agency Equity Teams for 23 federal agencies. Each Agency Equity Team will be led by a designated senior official charged with implementing the administration’s equity initiatives, including coordinating with the agency’s environmental justice officer, designated pursuant to the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad (Executive Order 14008), issued in the early days of the Biden-Harris Administration, on January 27, 2021.

Second, the Executive Order establishes the White House Steering Committee on Equity. This steering committee will include senior officials from various policy councils, including the White House Environmental Justice (EJ) Interagency Council, who will ensure that equity and environmental justice efforts are consistent and mutually reinforcing.

Third, the Executive Order requires that agency heads report the agency’s EJ Scorecard results in an annual Equity Action Plan. The EJ Scorecard—also created by Executive Order 14008—will likely be released later this year and is intended to provide transparency regarding the federal government’s progress on environmental justice. This progress will be based on agency efforts on reducing burdens and harms in communities, delivering benefits to communities, and centering justice in decision-making.

Accountability for agency EJ Scorecard results is likely to continue to drive agencies to demonstrate progress on environmental justice metrics, such as increased enforcement of environmental regulations when disadvantaged communities are affected. Companies that are beginning to take proactive steps to assess equity and environmental justice considerations will be best situated to adapt to this evolving regulatory regime. The WilmerHale team monitors trends in this area and regularly advises companies on navigating developments. Please contact the WilmerHale ESG team to learn more.



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