Administrator Michael Regan, Remarks for White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) First Public Meeting, As Prepared for Delivery
March 30, 2021
Thank you, Gina. And thank you for our strong partnership. It’s an honor to be here with all of you.
As the Vice President said, this is a history-making moment – and one that we didn’t just stumble upon.
For decades, the environmental justice community asked for a body just like this one – and today, because of your tireless work, your constant organizing and mobilizing, and your courage to speak truth to power – environmental justice has found its rightful place at the center of the White House’s agenda.
I’m grateful to all of you – and to President Biden for recognizing the interconnected crises facing our Black, Latinx, Tribal, and low-income communities, and for pledging, not simply to address these issues, but to root them out.
And to do that, President Biden’s agenda to rebuild stronger promises to make groundbreaking investments that will cut pollution from the power sector, modernize water infrastructure, and clean up legacy pollution that has gone unaddressed for far too long in many communities of color.
This investment strategy will complement – but not replace – EPA’s commitment to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce harmful air pollution from power plant smokestacks. Let me be clear: even if the Administration or Congress decides to pursue a Clean Energy Standard, EPA will continue to use its authority to clean up power plants. And as the President has clearly mandated, equity will be a central consideration across the board in our policy and regulatory thinking.
We also commit to strengthening the enforcement of our bedrock environmental laws and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to ensure violations in environmental justice communities don’t go unpunished.
I want to share with you all a readout from my meeting last week with NEJAC members – whose perspectives have long been essential to shaping EPA’s environmental justice work. We spoke at length about the multiple ways our frontline workers, especially farmworkers, have been affected by the pandemic – and the current and future economic realities facing communities as we transition to a new, green economy.
I listened to the members talk about their struggles with cities and states making decisions that directly affect communities with environmental justice concerns, such as the siting of waste sites or recycling facilities.
NEJAC members expressed an urgency for EPA to be more active in supporting states in their environmental justice efforts especially and to prioritize greater funding for the clean-up of contamination – from brownfields, to hazardous legacy sites, to ongoing waste at military sites.
They urged me and my team at EPA to be diligent in our review of the many decisions made by the previous administration that did not address environmental justice or made environmental injustice realities worse.
I also heard enthusiasm for the Administration’s “whole of government” philosophy toward fighting environmental injustice, especially given how the issues of race, climate, and equity are so deeply interwoven.
We spoke about the need for justice in funding, starting with how the American Rescue Plan, which earmarks $50 million for state and local environmental justice programs, should be spent to maximize its impact on community-led efforts to change conditions on the ground.
I also understand that the NEJAC had a vibrant public engagement portion of the call after my participation. I heard that issues raised during that portion spanned the gamut from enforcement and reconsideration of rules to the impacts of pollution on communities in our country’s border areas, and the need for more resources to advance environmental justice within government, but much more so, for communities and partners to advance EJ outside of government.
I’m looking forward to speaking with my staff and reviewing the full summary of the meeting, particularly the NEJAC’s dialogue with members of the public.
The NEJAC has set the standard for authenticity and engagement for a federal advisory committee, and many of its past and even present members are a part of this WHEJAC.
I’m excited about the potential for collaboration between NEJAC and WHEJAC. I believe the WHEJAC will enhance the ability of the White House and the U.S government to hear the perspectives that NEJAC has long provided to EPA.
As I stated during my time with NEJAC last week, EPA will be a leader in advancing environmental justice in this administration and across the country, and NEJAC will be front and center in that work.
I look forward to continuing to build a relationship with this body and working collaboratively on the NEJAC’s recommendations, in addition to strengthening the NEJAC’s broader relationship to the programs and people throughout EPA that are critical to our shared mission.