In January 2021, soon after taking office, President Biden issued Executive Order 14008, which created the Justice 40 Initiative, an ambitious program to ensure historically disadvantaged communities around the country that had traditionally been marginalized would benefit from historic federal investments. The enactments of The American Rescue Plan (ARPA), Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have triggered billions of federal dollars into clean energy and efficiency, including for these communities. Section 223 of Executive Order 14008 creates the Justice 40 initiative with the goal of 40 percent of the benefits for clean energy going to disadvantaged communities:
“Sec. 223. Justice40 Initiative. (a) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Climate Advisor, in consultation with the Advisory Council, shall jointly publish recommendations on how certain Federal investments might be made toward a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits flow to disadvantaged communities. The recommendations shall focus on investments in the areas of 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. The recommendations shall reflect existing authorities the agencies may possess for achieving the 40-percent goal as well as recommendations on any legislation needed to achieve the 40‑percent goal.”
State and local governments are playing critical roles in the implementation of Justice 40. It’s important to note that Justice 40 is not a dedicated fund that just disburses federal dollars. Instead, it’s a clear and achievable vision that all communities deserve clean and sustainable energy regardless of zip code. It’s up to the states to decide how and where federal money is spent within federal guidelines. The need for states to identify and prioritize disadvantaged communities is essential, given the scope of the infrastructure law.
States and local governments have begun identifying disadvantaged communities and implementing accountability measures to ensure communities are well served and money is spent efficiently. State legislatures are codifying Justice 40 and creating work groups and commissions. In addition, the EPA is assisting local governments by establishing technical assistance centers around the country to assist communities with grant applications and awards. Among the highlights of these efforts are:
- Maryland was one of the first states to codify Justice 40 through its budget process in 2022. At least 40% of the budget dedicated to climate change went to disadvantaged communities. This included environmental cleanup, public transportation, and affordable housing.
- The Delaware legislature created a Justice 40 oversight committee to track and review progress and make recommendations regarding the spending of ARPA dollars. The committee has held listening sessions with stakeholder engagement and is creating an environmental justice screening tool.
- Arizona established the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority with the assistance of the EPA to ensure safe drinking water in all communities.
- The city of Chicago received a $10 Million grant from the EPA to expand its community-focused approach to sustainability.
There are many opportunities for states and local governments to reap the benefits of Justice 40. For example, transportation projects can connect disadvantaged communities to job centers, infrastructure improvements can clean drinking water, and remediating brownfield sites can create jobs and affordable housing opportunities. For Justice 40 to succeed and avoid being another idea put on the shelf, states need to engage with all stakeholders, develop a coherent accountability framework, encourage local participation through local government, and establish robust guardrails to ensure federal investment dollars are not wasted. Justice 40 is not a Democrat or Republican initiative and should not be measured by red and blue states. The objective of Justice 40 is rooted in a principle central to our country’s founding – all communities deserve to be treated equally.