White House Takes Aim at Environmental Racism, but Won’t Mention Race

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Two months before winning the presidency in 2020 and after a summer in which the country was convulsed by a series of racial justice protests, Mr. Biden promised he would work to rectify the extraordinary pollution burden borne by communities of color. Every American had a basic right to a healthy environment, he said.

“Fulfilling this basic obligation to all Americans — especially in low income, white, Black, brown and Native American communities, who too often don’t have clean air and clean water — is not going to be easy,” Mr. Biden said outside the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Wilmington.

“The unrelenting impact of climate change affects every single solitary one of us,” he said. “But too often the brunt falls disproportionately on communities of color, exacerbating the need for environmental justice.”

Once in office, he established a 25-member White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, the first of its kind, and called on all federal agencies to ensure disadvantaged communities receive 40 percent of the benefits from federal investment in clean air and water, flood prevention, cleanup of Superfund sites, renewable energy and other improvements.

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Michael. S. Regan, visited largely Black and other communities of color in the South on a “Journey to Justice” tour, and promised more inspections and enforcement of environmental laws in communities affected by polluting industries.

But the practicalities of righting historical wrongs — racist zoning and housing policies that located polluting industries and highways in communities of color — have not been easy.

Mr. Biden’s top environmental justice adviser, Cecilia Martinez, resigned last month, saying that she felt she was “burning out” after working for years to make the issue a top government priority. The Justice40 screening tool is behind schedule, and some advocates worry the effort is losing momentum.

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