On Juneteenth, Celebrating the Justice40 Initiative for Environmental Justice

Jun 18, 2024

Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in the U.S. received the news of their emancipation, four and a half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Long celebrated in Black communities as a day commemorating Black freedom, June 19th was declared a federal holiday by President Biden in 2021.

“Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today… [as we] recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice.”

President Biden in his proclamation declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday.

As acknowledged by President Biden in his remarks declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday, the fight for equity, equality, and justice is ongoing. The administration also recognizes that this fight includes the fight for environmental justice, and has made advancing environmental justice a cornerstone of their work. During President Biden’s first week in office, he signed Executive Order 14008, the “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” which introduced the Justice40 Initiative. The largest ever U.S. national commitment to environmental justice, Justice40 requires that at least 40% of the benefits from federal investments in infrastructure and climate go to communities that have been historically excluded and overburdened by pollution, including Black, Indigenous, Latine, and low-wealth communities.

Communities of color, including Black communities, and low-wealth communities have historically experienced, and continue to experience, disproportionate levels of pollution in the areas where they live. These communities, known as Environmental Justice, or EJ, communities, are more likely to live near highways and polluted sites or polluting facilities, and have much higher rates of cancer, and respiratory and other illnesses caused by pollution than White communities. Some examples of EJ communities include Cancer Alley, an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans  that is home a majority Black population and 200 fossil fuel and petrochemical operations, and communities living in the poverty-stricken, majority Black and Brown Gulf Coast of Texas, home of the largest oil refinery in North America.

None of this is an accident. For decades, government agencies and corporations have purposely built highways, polluting facilities, and waste sites in these communities in a phenomenon that has come to be known as environmental racism or environmental injustice. Justice40 aims to address the decades of underinvestment and intentional, racist policies and decisions that have created a legacy of environmental injustice in these communities. 

Intersecting highways in Los Angeles. Credit: Storm Crypt, Flickr

Across the country today, we are working to build a clean energy future that puts equity at its core. This means that communities that have historically been shut out from government services, investments, and decision-making, and overburdened by pollution and its health impacts must be meaningfully engaged, and policy must be designed to intentionally address these disproportionate impacts. The Biden-Harris administration has made the most significant commitment to environmental justice of any administration in history and is working to ensure that, as we work to build our clean energy future, we do it in a way that is equitable and just.

Justice40 is bringing benefits to EJ communities

“We’ve put environmental justice at the center of what we do, addressing the disproportionate health, environmental, and economic impacts that have been borne primarily by communities of color — places too often left behind.”

President Biden, Earth Day 2022.

The Justice40 Initiative is bringing funding for “clean energy and energy efficiency; clean transit; affordable and sustainable housing; training and workforce development; the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution; and the development of critical clean water infrastructure” to EJ communities nationwide. Here are some examples of how Justice40 funding is advancing environmental justice across the country.

Environmental Justice Grant Programs

As part of the Justice40 Initiative, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened billions of dollars in environmental justice grants for projects to advance environmental justice in overly polluted communities, including:

Clean energy, and clean energy jobs

Justice40 is bringing funding to EJ communities for a variety of clean energy projects that will help reduce pollution, and create good paying, clean energy jobs for those communities in the process. Some examples include:

  • A $3.5 billion investment in 58 projects, all located in Justice40 EJ communities, to bring 35 gigawatts of renewable energy online and improve the resilience and reliability of the electrical grid in EJ communities who tend to be the hardest hit by extreme weather worsened by climate change. About 75% of these projects are partnering with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and creating good union jobs for people in the local communities where they are underway.
  • A $6.3 million grant to Black Owners of Solar Services (BOSS), the largest organization of African American solar professionals, to train minority-owned businesses on how to apply for funding and access programs, benefits, and services from the Department of Energy (DOE). Training minority-owned businesses to access more DOE services means even more benefits coming to those communities in the future.
  • A historic $27 billion investment in the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to help mobilize private capital and financing to address climate change. The program focuses on bringing investments into communities that are overburdened by pollution, most impacted by climate change, and suffering from disinvestment. This includes a $7 billion program focused on delivering solar to communities facing higher energy burdens and having experienced more difficulty to date participating in the clean energy transition.
    • One of the recipients: GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit organization based in San Diego, received funding to install a solar power system at a home for young people who are transitioning out of foster care. 

Clean transportation

Justice40 is funding efforts to lower emissions from the transportation sector that disproportionately contribute to the overpollution burden experienced by EJ communities, as well as funding projects to improve transportation infrastructure and create more walkable cities. Some examples include:

  • EPA’s Clean School Bus Program which has so far delivered almost $3 billion to disadvantaged and overly polluted communities to replace toxic diesel school buses with cleaner models. Less diesel pollution from school buses means cleaner, safer air for children in EJ communities, including Black children who are 42% more likely to suffer from asthma than their White counterparts, in addition to being more likely to contract other respiratory illnesses.
  • A $3.3 billion investment to reconnect and rebuild communities that have been divided by transportation infrastructure, which are disproportionately communities of color. The investment will fund projects to improve access and transportation by creating new transit routes, bike lanes, and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and infrastructure.
    • One of the recipients: “The Stitch” in Atlanta, Georgia received funding to reconnect midtown and downtown Atlanta which were cut off from one another during the construction of highway systems I-75 and I-85.

President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative is spurring billions of dollars in public and private investment benefiting communities that have long been overburdened by pollution and the impacts of the climate crisis. These examples provide a small glimpse into the enormous scale of these investments and the work being done to build a just and equitable clean energy future.

Continuing to advance environmental justice

Two activists carry a colorful sign outdoors that reads, “Rise for Environmental Justice for All” and lists the examples of Gordon Plaza and Cancer Alley. Credit: Fernando Lopez, Survival Media Agency from 350.org on Flickr

Racial justice and climate justice are inextricably linked; we can’t have one without the other. We must protect the federal programs and funding that are advancing both in EJ communities nationwide under President Biden’s affordable clean energy plan. These programs and investments are bringing tangible and transformational benefits to communities, but extreme Republicans have already made several attempts to cut these important programs. This Juneteenth, we are celebrating the Biden-Harris administration’s monumental progress in environmental justice – and looking ahead to the work still to come.

The Best Thing You Can Do Right Now

Tell Congress to Protect the IRA and Environmental Funding

Far-right Republicans are dead set on rescinding climate action and clean energy investments from the federal clean energy plan and slashing critical funding for environmental programs. And they’re willing to shut down the government to do it. Tell Congress to protect these federal investments and the climate action benefits they’re generating in states across the country.

Tell Congress to Protect Climate Progress
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Act Now

Thank President Biden and the EPA for Cleaner Cars and Trucks

Tailpipe emissions are the leading cause of climate change in the U.S., and lead to respiratory diseases like asthma. The Biden-Harris administration just finalized stronger rules that protect us from tailpipe emissions while accelerating clean vehicle adoption. Take action to thank President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan for helping to protect the health of families, reduce carbon pollution, and bring us close to 100% new clean vehicles sold by 2035.

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