Recent Executive Order Expands Focus of Federal Environmental Justice Approach

News & Events

May 31, 2023

President Biden’s recent “Executive Order on Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All” expands the federal government’s focus on environmental justice (EJ) to include a “whole-of-government” approach and redefines the definition of EJ.  This Executive Order builds on the previous presidential action by President Clinton nearly 30 years ago, which defined EJ and outlined an agenda for addressing its effects in vulnerable communities.  That same agenda has been used by federal agencies ever since.  According to President Biden’s recent Executive Order, EJ is now defined as:

“The just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, Tribal affiliation, or disability, in agency decision-making and other Federal activities that affect human health and the environment.”

The new EJ definition, which includes Tribal affiliation and disabilities, represents a more modern, action-oriented approach by the federal government to address environmental issues, including chemical exposures and climate change.  As the definition of EJ changes and evolves and federal agencies more fully incorporate EJ in their policies and practices, vulnerable communities considered to be overburdened with EJ concerns could also change and evolve.  Existing EJ tools that are used to map and screen for environmental and demographic socioeconomic indicators, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) EJScreen and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), will likely have to consider how to incorporate new EJ indicators, such as disabilities.

Along with a broadened EJ definition, the Executive Order could have impacts on federal rulemaking, regulations, programs, and practices. As agencies work to integrate EJ considerations into their missions, changes may be seen in permitting, compliance, monitoring, reporting, and enforcement. In addition, the Executive Order emphasizes an increased reliance on best available science and data to understand cumulative impacts and burdens.

Gradient scientists are staying on top of changes to regulations, guidance, and tools used to assess technical aspects of EJ-related issues to help our clients navigate the developing intersection between science and EJ policies and practices.  If you have questions about how the Executive Order and revised EJ definition may impact your operations, please contact Gradient.