Today, February 11, 2024, marks the 30th anniversary of President Clinton signing Executive Order 12898 – Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. It was intended to focus federal attention on the inequitable impacts of federal actions on the environmental health people of color and low-income. It was a milestone moment for the environmental justice movement, as it was the first time our government has acknowledged the disparity of pollution and other environmental hazards that these communities have been subjected to for generations. And while the intention was good, it fell short of accomplishing anything beyond public recognition for our struggle.
The watershed moment came nearly 27 years later when President Biden signed Executive Order 14008, tackling the climate crisis with a whole-of-government approach that centered justice. This included the Justice40 Initiative, which set a goal of 40 percent of the benefits of Federal investments – including investments to advance climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of critical clean water and wastewater infrastructure – go to “disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.”
Having established this framework for government-wide action on environmental justice, President Biden went on to issue Executive Order 14096 last April, directing the Federal Government to “build upon and strengthen its commitment to deliver environmental justice to all communities across America through an approach that is informed by scientific research, high-quality data, and meaningful Federal engagement with communities with environmental justice concerns.”
At WE ACT, we have been organizing our community and working to advance environmental justice legislation at the city, state, and federal levels for more than 35 years now. And with our Justice40rward initiative and our U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (TCTAC), we are now working to take advantage of this watershed moment, ensuring this federal funding gets to the communities that need it. We hope that this multi-pronged approach will finally put our nation on the path to ending the disparities in pollution and other environmental health challenges that our communities have had to endure for far too long.