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On July 20, 2021, the Biden Administration’s official Interim Implementation Guidance for the Justice40 initiative was released to support equitable implementation of executive order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Justice40 aims to “deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities.” Unfortunately, the Implementation Guidance lacks critical safeguards to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and historically marginalized communities who stand at the fence lines of polluting industries and on the frontlines of injustice.
CJA members and affiliates have participated in extensive engagement with the Justice40 Initiative. Several of our members offered recommendations through individual participation in the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) and a series of workshops coordinated by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Justice.
Miya Yoshitani, CJA board member, WHEJAC member, and executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, cautioned against the Interim Guidance’s lack of protections against investments in non-renewable forms of clean energy as urged in the extensive Final WHEJAC Justice 40 recommendations.
“In California, we are facing wildfires, droughts, and a cap and trade system that further concentrates harmful climate pollution in frontline communities. Justice 40 Implementation Guidance should increase community-owned, localized renewable energy. The guidance should also explicitly ban investments into carbon markets, continued fossil fuel extraction and other approaches that fail to protect our health and planet.”
Maria Lopez-Nunez, CJA board member, deputy director of organizing and advocacy for Ironbound Community Corporation and WHEJAC member stated,
“I live in Newark where 1 in 4 children have asthma and we are home to numerous toxic industries including the largest waste incinerator in our state. Everyday we are working hard to protect our families and communities against polluters. Those efforts led New Jersey to pass the strongest Environmental Justice policy in the nation. We need to ensure tougher standards and community-driven solutions are implemented on the federal level as well. Given the legacy of pollution in our community there can be no justice unless we can ensure that 100 percent of all investments do no harm.”
While the administration has taken steps to create space for direct engagement and consultation with grassroots, frontline-led organizations, the Implementation Guidance must be stronger as outlined below:
Strongly commit to protect Indigenous Peoples and implement federal codification of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) for Tribal Nations. The Interim guidance narrowly defines Indigenous communities as only those “geographic areas within Tribal jurisdictions.” Therefore, the guide will potentially exclude many federally recognized Tribes, and non-federally recognized Indigenous peoples more broadly, from the “benefits” of Justice40. The guidance does not include federal codification of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) for Tribal Nations and communities, which is a crucial demand coming from our membership. Further, it is unclear how the DOE will implement their standard of consultation with each of the 576 federally recognized Tribes, which may serve to further delay or hinder any investment in the Tribal Nations who do fit the DOE’s narrow definition of disadvantaged communities.
Include investment criteria that prioritizes Just Transition, workers rights, community-led projects, and regenerative solutions. Justice 40 must mean an investment in Energy Democracy that shifts the power from a corporate, centralized fossil fuel economy to one that is governed by communities, is designed on the principle of no harm to the environment, supports local economies, and contributes to the health and well-being for all peoples.Therefore, it is important that there is strong criteria and guidance to ensure that new projects are wise investments that do not create or increase harm through pollution or other negative impacts.
Examples of harmful projects that may claim Justice40 benefits for frontline communities are biomass burning facilities. Biomass is oftentimes listed as a form of “renewable energy” and therefore a greenhouse gas mitigation benefit. However, biomass burning facilities emit particulate matter and other toxic air pollutants. Installation of carbon capture storage/sequestration (CCS) equipment at fossil fuel facilities is also supported in the interim guidance. However, CCS does not address particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, or other pollutants. CCS requires dangerous transport of emissions via the creation of pipelines or on railways, ships and public highway systems. It is an expensive false promise that is dangerous for public health, and is vulnerable to damage from increased natural disasters and national security threats.
Enact protections to ensure investments and benefits go directly to impacted communities and projects that have been identified as critical or a priority through strong community consultation. Additional investment in developing community governance and oversight roles is an important safeguard to ensure that the promised benefits for the community materialize. The Interim Implementation Guidance only commits to “Stakeholder Consultation,” which is not the same as meaningfully involving frontline communities in the planning and decision-making process. “Consultation” could entail merely giving frontline communities the opportunity to voice their concerns, and then proceeding to ignore these concerns in the actual funding decisions that are made.
Moreover, as the guidance reads now, projects initiated by an external entity (such as a project located in a frontline community, but led by a corporation owned and controlled by people who are not from the community) is allowable. This is fraught with risks for the community. In these instances, it is plausible that the corporate owner of the project will claim inflated benefits for the community that are hard to verify and subject to manipulation. Worse still, an outside corporation may even claim benefits for the frontline community for a project that actually causes harm to the community. This makes it all the more critical that frontline communities have substantive control over where investments supposedly made for their benefit are directed.
It is time for bold action from the Biden Administration. CJA and our members are motivated to continue working with our communities and the Administration to ensure that Justice40 Implementation guidelines are rooted in fairness, equity and ecological values. We need effective climate crisis solutions that honor human rights and the rights of nature. These solutions require bold localized, democratic, and community not corporate controlled engagement that creates real opportunities for leadership, empowerment and protection for those communities and workers who are most impacted.