Leaving the White House sends shockwaves through the environmental community

Leaving the CEQ prompted three members of the Biden White House of environmental advisory to do environmental justice The board, including its co-chair, wrote to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein Monday asking him to explain how the administration plans to achieve its environmental sanitation goals. the message, Revealed exclusively to POLITICO, she asked the White House to appoint an environmental sanitation expert in the Office of Climate Policy led by Senior Local Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy to raise the effort across its projects and programs.

“It was a huge blow to the ability to believe in the seriousness of management in their commitment to environmental justice,” said Maria Lopez Nunez, an advisory board member and deputy director at Newark, New Jersey-based Ironbound Community Corporation. “I have a lot of questions about what’s going on.”

CEQ officials were the main point of contact with management for activists and members of that advisory board. Now only one in three officials focusing on environmental justice remains at CEQ. The two CEQ departures also come before a major deadline to unveil one of management’s most anticipated tools: a sanitation scorecard that will track management’s progress toward its goals, as well as critical guidance for agencies to implement environmental sanitation initiatives.

The Biden White House has always been seriously understaffed to achieve its ambitious environmental sanitation goals, according to activists and community organizers who have been deeply frustrated about the lack of progress on President’s Justice40 initiative, which aims to direct 40 percent of federal benefits to communities that Face the heaviest burden of pollution. They saw the department’s environmental justice agenda fall victim to that segregated portfolio within CEQ which, although chaired by environmental justice ally Brenda Mallory, had historically been a resource-poor entity with little power of its own.

“We are concerned that work remains on the right track,” said Dana Johnson, senior director of strategy and federal policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

One of the authors of the letter to Klein, Beverly Wright, who directs the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said McCarthy’s office did not appear to prioritize environmental justice and that the departure was an “obvious” blow.

“Everyone that has been associated with people who work in environmental sanitation are gone,” she said. “I can not Talk.”

Martinez declined to comment on her resignation, and attempts to contact Keif were unsuccessful.

A White House spokesperson defended staffing levels and said it was a priority for all White House environmental staff. “Environmental justice is embedded in the whole government approach to addressing the climate crisis that the president and this administration have championed. Everyone from Jenna and [her deputy] But [Zaidi] on working on environmental justice,” the spokesperson said.

Johnson said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and CEQ are approaching their February deadline to publish a scorecard to assess the administration’s record on improving outcomes in sanitation communities — an essential accountability measure to ensure Biden lives up to his pledges.

Getting that across the finish line will be more difficult after the departure on Friday of Martinez, who has led CEQ’s environmental sanitation effort, and the departure on Monday of Cave, who focused on outreach to environmental groups.

Martinez’s attitude was fresh and part of Biden’s effort to deliver on his promises To the black, Latino and other people of color who helped him take over the presidency last November.

“What’s happening in D.C. right now is very upsetting to me. Blacks – now I can’t speak for anyone else – we kind of feel like we’ve been thrown under the bus,” Wright said, adding that the justice environment “has not been pushed to the top of justice priorities, and I think That there are some obstacles there.”

Several members of the advisory board and other environmental sanitation activists said the recent departures are leaving Martinez’s deputy, Cory Solo, the last remaining White House official with environmental justice as their primary responsibility. In order to honor Biden’s pledges to voters, they said, he will need to dedicate more resources, time and results.

Harold Mitchell Jr., CEO of ReGenesis Community Development Corp., said: and Advisory Board: “Corey is the only one left.” A member just finished a call discussing the board meeting scheduled for next week.

The White House has rejected accusations that it has dedicated too few staff to environmental sanitation. A White House spokesperson said Mallory, the head of CEQ, is invested in the topic and that only in that body “there are many people who work on environmental sanitation issues,” and the administration will soon announce new appointments.

“Our work on Environmental Justice and Justice 40 does not revolve around any individual employee – it is built into the president’s whole government approach and we look forward to announcing sometime soon additional employees who will continue the amazing work that David and Cecilia have done in her first year of management,” The spokesman said in a written statement.

Advocates said that expected CEQ guidance for agencies to assess environmental sanitation priorities and implement Justice40 has been slow to come. They worry that the agencies will move forward with their own interpretations of the strategy, which may be problematic because their prior approaches to the status quo have not been seen to benefit many marginalized communities. Without clear guidance from the CEQ, they say history risks repeating itself.

said Anna Baptista, associate director of the Tishman Center for Environment and Design at The New School in New York City and a member of the advisory board.

How agencies interpret sanitation initiatives can differ Largely because the Biden administration has not defined most of its central terminology, including whether the 40 percent of targeted “benefits” refer to actual spending, or even what constitutes a “disadvantaged community.”

A White House spokesperson told POLITICO that a preliminary version of a long-awaited Environmental Justice Screening Tool designed to fill these voids will be launched soon. The spokesperson said the tool will “continually be updated and revised based on feedback and research” and “will improve consistency – across the federal government – of how agencies implement programs and initiatives,” including identifying disadvantaged communities.

Advisory board members also prompted agencies to clarify how they evaluated environmental sanitation components in 21 programs identified for the pilot phase of Justice40. Agencies reviewing these programs were supposed to submit progress reports to the Office of Management and Budget last month, but none of the results were made public, said Rachel Cletts, director of climate and energy policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Baptista said she wants to put forward the agency’s assumptions about what constitutes fairness, fairness, and other objectives for external review.

Rep. Donald McEachine (D-Va), who has championed the case in Congress and helped write the Biden campaign platform on the topic, praised Martinez and her office for guiding the federal government in a clearer direction for environmental sanitation.

“She was really the architect, if you will, to get the White House in a position we can talk about [environmental justice] As an issue, where we can talk about Justice40,” he told Politico. “Because of it, things went well. I think there are still some things to come up with and work on.”

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