Biden Pushes for Environmental Justice While Approving Pipelines

Biden Pushes for Environmental Justice While Approving Pipelines

Last Friday, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All, which will require federal agencies working on energy infrastructure projects to engage with communities early in the process. In a big win for frontline communities that have led the organizing charge in calling attention to environmental injustices, the cumulative impacts of pollution will be considered in environmental reviews. 

Understanding the cumulative impacts of energy infrastructure projects is critical. In the past, energy infrastructure projects have been approved based on their marginal contributions to the total pollution of an area, however, when combined with other sources of pollution, the results can be deadly. Under the new executive order, the whole environmental picture will be considered.

While this is a crucial win for environmental justice priorities, it is important to evaluate the Biden administration’s commitment to environmental justice. As defined by the Department of Energy (DOE), environmental justice means: 

The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no population bears a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or from the execution of federal, state, and local laws; regulations, and policies. Meaningful involvement requires effective access to decision makers for all, and the ability in all communities to make informed decisions and take positive actions to produce environmental justice for themselves.”

Despite DOE’s commitment to environmental justice, the same day President Biden issued this executive order, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urging speeding up approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Are communities around the pipeline not going to bear the costs of this fossil fuel infrastructure? Are communities everywhere not going to bear the costs of the climate crisis from this pipeline? 

Instead of just “talking the talk,” the Biden administration must do more to “walk the walk” and live up to its commitment of advancing environmental justice. That means denying fossil fuel permits and shutting down fossil fuel infrastructure (including Line 5 in Michigan). Any approval of fossil fuel infrastructure at this stage of the crisis is an environmental injustice. From Willow to Alaska LNG, to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, there is no justice in a world being taken from us before our eyes.

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