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EPA, Interior Apply Biden Justice40 Equity Plan to 137 Programs

June 24, 2022, 8:21 PM

The EPA and the Interior Department are applying President Joe Biden’s Justice40 equity effort to nearly 140 programs to steer more federal benefits to disadvantaged populations under programs to reduce lead, increase access to clean water, and restore mining areas and ecosystems.

The announcement by the two agencies Friday is a significant expansion of Biden’s effort, which calls for funneling 40% of the overall benefits of clean energy, fighting climate change, affordable housing, and other federal funding to disadvantaged communities.

Lists from the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency include many existing programs funded under last year’s bipartisan infrastructure package, including those addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water; efforts to remove lead from drinking water service lines; and the Clean School Bus Program to transition schools to zero- and low-emission buses.

The 72 EPA programs now covered under Justice40 include several agency programs already swept into the effort a year ago, including clean water and drinking water State Revolving Funds; Superfund and Brownfields cleanups; and programs to reduce lead in drinking water and emissions from diesel engines.

Additional EPA programs now being brought into the equity effort include pollution prevention grants, the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program tracking chemical releases; funding under the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) program; the sewer overflow control program; and a general assistance program for tribal communities, according to EPA’s list released Friday.

The EPA has committed to “not just meet but exceed the 40 percent goal of benefits flowing from investments to disadvantaged communities” under its Justice40-covered programs, the agency said in its announcement.

The announcements suggest agencies are taking Biden’s effort seriously, said Hannah Perls, a staff attorney with the Harvard Environmental & Energy Law Program who tracks Justice40 and other Biden equity efforts. “It’s great to see agencies get specific about which programs are covered and affirm that they plan to go well beyond the 40% mandate,” Perls said.

One unanswered question, she said, is how each agency will define the benefits provided under covered programs. “Defining which benefits agencies can count towards that 40% goal will play a significant role in determining the program’s overall impact” for environmental justice communities, she said.

Broad Interior Coverage

Friday’s announcement also wraps 65 Interior Department programs into the Justice40 effort, including those under the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Among the newly covered programs: the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which expands parkland and bike and hiking trails and is financed mostly from revenue from offshore oil and gas leases. LWCF efforts under the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service are now considered covered by Justice40.

Other covered Interior programs include the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s Offshore Orphaned Infrastructure Decommissioning, which ensures offshore oil and gas wells are sealed; National Park Service programs promoting conservation and outdoor recreation; and 15 Bureau of Indian Affairs programs including economic development, housing improvement, dam safety, and water sanitation.

Friday’s announcement expands upon an initial group of covered programs launched as Justice40 pilot efforts in a July 2021 White House Office of Management interim guidance. Beyond EPA water grants and waste cleanup programs, the pilot covered various energy, transportation, climate change, and affordable housing efforts.

The Biden administration considers a federal program covered under its Justice40 effort if it makes certain investments in any of seven categories: climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and development of “critical” clean water and wastewater infrastructure.

Federal agencies have been directed to review about a dozen indications of disadvantaged populations to determine the communities that should benefit, including whether a community is low-income or suffering from high or persistent poverty, or high unemployment or underemployment. The array of federal investments for programs swept into the Justice40 effort can include grants and procurement spending, financing, staffing costs, or direct spending or benefits the federal government extends to individuals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bloombergindustry.com