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White House Furthers Environmental Justice Work with Release of Draft Climate and Economic Justice S

White House Furthers Environmental Justice Work with Release of Draft Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool
February 23, 2022 by Freedom S.N. Smith, Partner
While environmental justice (EJ) issues have been at the forefront of the Biden Administration's political agenda, there has been a lack of agreement on how environmental justice communities should be identified. The White House recently released a draft climate and economic justice screening tool developed by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to fill this gap. This screening tool is anticipated to be used by federal agencies as they seek to comply with President Biden's strategies for tackling the climate crisis as well as environmental enforcement.  

While most EJ discussions acknowledge race and racial disparities, the draft screening tool omits race as a stand-alone factor. Instead, the proposed screening tool breaks down the country by census tract and helps identify disadvantaged communities through 21 thresholds. These thresholds include whether the communities are vulnerable to various climate change impacts, have legacy pollution concerns, are low-income, shoulder health burdens associated with pollution and have sustainable housing concerns, among others.

The move to exclude race as a factor is interesting, as environmental justice focuses on disparate impacts to certain groups, including raising and addressing racial disparities that exist in the environmental arena. Whether these impacts can be captured by the existing 21 thresholds is yet to be seen. However, what we can acknowledge is that having a tool that allows various interest groups to get a common understanding and starting point for identifying environmental justice communities helps everyone. The beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool can be found here. Comments on the draft tool can be submitted in response to CEQ's Request for Information posted in the Federal Register soliciting feedback on the tool.   

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.

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