U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order directing every federal agency to work toward “environmental justice for all” and improve the lives of communities hit hardest by toxic pollution and climate change.
The order creates a new Office of Environmental Justice within the White House to coordinate government efforts, and it requires federal agencies to warn communities whenever dangerous substances are released from a federal facility.
Disasters such as the February derailment of a freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in a hazardous chemical leak, have drawn attention to the environmental damage some areas endure at a higher rate.
“This is about people’s health. It’s about the health of our communities. It’s only about the future of our planet,” Biden told activists, lawmakers, and others before signing the order in the Rose Garden at the White House.
The Democratic president, who might formally announce his re-election bid as early as Tuesday, said the order will accelerate efforts to correct years of practices that harmed Black and other minority communities, including discriminatory residential “redlining.”
He railed against Republican efforts to repeal climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, a move he said would undermine work to reduce pollution and advance clean energy, instead of ending $30 billion in subsidies to the oil industry.
“For far too long, communities across our country have faced persistent environmental injustice through toxic pollution, underinvestment in infrastructure and critical services, and other disproportionate environmental harms often due to a legacy of racial discrimination,” the White House said a statement.
The president has used his executive authority in areas where a divided Congress has hampered his ability to pass new legislation.
According to Cathleen Kelly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, the order will help hold the federal government responsible for the impact of its policies on low-income, Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities confronting serious threats.
“These communities face inequitable living conditions due to chronic disinvestment and systemic racism, which makes them more vulnerable to climate change,” she said.
Separately, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Miami on Friday to announce a $562 million commitment to assisting communities in becoming more resilient to climate change.
Harris’ trip comes as South Florida battles with gasoline shortages following last week’s flooding, hampered supply and spurred some panic buying at the pump.