White House Environmental Justice Head Leaving Administration

Jan. 6, 2022, 9:29 PM

Cecilia Martinez, the first-ever senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is leaving the agency, a CEQ spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

Martinez had been serving as one of the administration’s most senior architects of environmental justice policy, an issue area that President Joe Biden and his top deputies have repeatedly prioritized. CEQ has also come to oversee much of Biden’s government-wide environmental justice platform.

Under Martinez’ direction, the policy shop has been working with agencies to adjust the cost-benefit analyses that feed into federal decisions, ensuring they consider the health and environmental benefits in disadvantaged communities. CEQ is also working on identifying better ways of speaking with local communities to learn about their environmental justice needs.

Martinez spoke in May 2021 of the need for a “multifaceted, multi-pronged approach” to addressing longstanding environmental problems in low-income communities of color.

At one time Martinez had been in the running to lead CEQ, which is chaired by Brenda Mallory.

‘Laid the Infrastructure’

Catherine Flowers, a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, said Martinez “laid the infrastructure to allow the work that we are doing now to go forward.”

Much of that work was being done for the first time, according to Flowers, including an effort to stand up the advisory council, which Biden created in early 2021 to raise the profile of environmental justice concerns to the White House level.

Flowers, an Alabama activist who founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, also stressed the need to name a replacement “relatively quickly.”

Whomever steps into Martinez’ role should be “someone who brings a similar skill set to what Cecilia brought to the position,” said Flowers, who stressed she was speaking in her role as an activist, not a WHEJAC member.

“She had chops in the EJ community, but she also understood how government worked. It’s very important to have both, because otherwise we’re not going to get a lot done.”

In a Thursday statement, Mallory called Martinez “the heart, soul, and mind of the most ambitious environmental justice agenda ever adopted by a president.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement that Martinez’ work “will be foundational as we continue our efforts to center equity and inclusion as a cornerstone of this administration.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergindustry.com; Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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