One of the executive orders signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office was a large-scale call to prioritize the advancement of environmental justice.

“It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; … to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; … to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; … and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals,” reads the order, signed on January 20, 2021.

There has been an Office of Environmental Justice in the EPA since 1992, but it is widely regarded as toothless. The EPA has never had a mandate to create policies to address the unequal burden of pollution on minority communities. With Michael Regan serving as the first black administrator to head the EPA, activists and environmental scientists hope to see that change.

Examples of environmental injustice include the prevalence of waste transfer stations, power stations, and other polluting pieces of infrastructure in communities of color; disasters such as the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, which stemmed from a poor community being seen as lower in priority than industrial sites; and oil pipelines being routed through Native American reservations to avoid conflict with predominately white suburbs.

Biden’s new order dictates that all applicable agencies tighten and revisit their reviews of projects which may have unequal impact and takes a hard look at all of the deregulations of the Trump Administration in light of environmental justice and our overall climate future.

Further action that activists would like to see that this order didn’t reach is making the EPA more responsive to Title VI claims, which tied to organizations receiving federal fund while discriminating against protected groups.

Photo: People at the March for Climate Justice NYC on September 20, 2020. Credit: Ron Adar /