Apr 24, 2023

Biden Signs Executive Order Aimed at Advancing Environmental Justice Transcript

Biden Signs Executive Order Aimed at Advancing Environmental Justice Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsEnvironmental JusticeBiden Signs Executive Order Aimed at Advancing Environmental Justice Transcript

President Joe Biden signed an order that effectively makes environmental justice the mission of every single executive agency in the White House. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

President Biden set to sign that executive order aimed at advancing environmental justice. Let’s listen in.

President Joe Biden (00:04):

I really mean it. And just named the most – you were named one of the most influential people of the year in Time Magazine. Being a grandparent second time around, that’s the best of the jobs, right? Yeah, well –

Look, congratulations to your granddaughter. She’s going to be looking up to you for a long time. And I thank everyone for joining us here today. EPA Administrator Reagan has done a heck of a job for us for a long time. And I kid her all the time: Had she been born in the United States instead of Canada, she’d be the president standing here. Jennifer Granholm, my Secretary of – you’re doing a great job, Jennifer.

And the Chair of the White House Council of Environmental Quality, Brenda Mallory. Where’s Mallory? There she is, Brenda. Members of Congress who work on this issue every day are champions of environmental justice. Let’s get something straight: None of this would’ve happened without you guys. And that’s a fact. None of it would happen without you guys. Look, stand up. And I want the – a war hero is not going to be able to stand up because she’s in a wheelchair. But, everybody else, please stand up.

And I also want to mention a member who can’t be here today: Congressman – an old friend – Don McEachin. A lifelong fighter for environmental justice. And he fought like hell for every one of the things we’re going to talk about today.

I want to thank all you advocates and community leaders, including members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, many of whom have been working on this issue for a long time and persuading those in power to pay attention, pay attention to make this a priority to care.

Look, what you know do matters. It matters a great deal. I ask all of you in the council to stand up and be recognized. Some couldn’t be here today. I mean it. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Earth day is tomorrow – a chance to reflect on the national wonders of our nation and our planet. But we have to do a great deal more than just reflect. We have to commit ourselves to action. Will we step up to our ambitions? Will we stand together to meet the great challenges we have? Will we preserve our planet for future generations?

History is going to judge us by how we answer these questions. And that’s not hyperbole; that’s a fact. And today, I hope the answer is going to be allowed and clear “yes.” Yes, we’re committed to following the science. Yes, we’re determined to strengthen the ambitions – our ambitions and actions. And yes, we will include communities that have been denied basic security, basic dignity that comes from having clean air, clean water and clean energy jobs and environmental justice.

And, folks, like you, environmental issues have been close to my heart for a long time. It was one of the first people to introduce a climate bill – I did – back in 1986. No, no, it was because I grew up – and maybe there’s one Delawarean in here who knows where Claymont, Delaware is. I grew up in –

Oh, all right. Well, I grew up in Claymont, Delaware, which is just on the Pennsylvania line. The time I was growing up there in an area called Brookview Apartments, there were more oil refineries in that neck of the woods, in that southeast corner of Pennsylvania than in Houston, Texas. And I went to school about a mile up the road on the thing called the Philadelphia Pike. And mom used to drive us up because it was a very busy highway and she’d drop us off.

And on those days early on when there’d be the first frost, you’d turn on the windshield wipers – not a joke – and there’d be an oil slick on the window. Literally an oil slick on the front windshield. And how many folks across the country have had similar experiences? We know public health impacts of toxins and air and water. And there’s real effects.

I think it’s one of the reasons why I had childhood asthma. So many people in that area. We had one of the highest cancer rates in the nation in that part of Delaware for the longest time. And that’s why when I was running for president, I made it a priority to meet with the environmental justice leaders.

And I remember one conversation we had in the summer of 2020, their stories were unforgettable. People living near factories, seeing the paint on their cars literally peel off because the air was so corrosive. Imagine being a parent scared to death about what the air and rain was going to do to your kids. Landfills and garbage incinerators located right in the middle of communities. Drinking water contaminated by radon and arsenic.

This kind of inequity and injustice goes against everything we stand for as a nation, but it continues to exist. So when I was elected president, with Kamala and her partnership, we vowed to take action in the most ambitious climate environmental justice agenda in American history. And that’s exactly what we did with your support.

On day one of my presidency, we reentered the Paris Agreement because the United States should lead the world in fighting the climate crisis. Yesterday, I convened a major economic forum – on Zoom, comprised of the world’s leaders – leading emitters to accelerate progress and help poor countries and communities deal with the impacts of climate change. And I announced that I’m going to ask Congress for $500 million to protect the Amazon deforestation and get other countries to do the same.

It’s an irreplaceable resource that the whole planet depends on, but to lead the world, we have to start here at home. My first week as president, I signed an executive order directing my administration to take sweeping action to tackle the climate crisis. And we set a historic goal to direct 40% to – excuse me – direct 40% of the overall benefits of all federal investment in climate change to clean air, clean water, clean transit, and more to communities that are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation.

And with your support, we’re living up to that pledge through our Justice40 Initiative. We passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to modernize our roads, bridges, ports, airports, and so much more; replacing every single lead pipe in America because we think everyone should be able to turn on a faucet at home or the 400,000 schools and drink clean water.

We’re helping school districts across the country electrify their school buses so kids don’t have to breathe polluted air from diesel exhaust. Across Appalachian and the Great Plains we’re plugging the so-called orphan wells, which emit methane, which is significantly more dangerous and toxic than anything else that comes out of the ground. More dangerous gases poisoning air and water in rural communities. We’re delivering clean water and clean sanitation to millions of families. And we’re cleaning up toxic pollution, including brown fields and superfund sites, which have been a blight on communities for decades.

The vice president wanted to be here today, but she’s in Florida announcing investments we’re making in strengthening infrastructure in coastal areas that are vulnerable to storms. But together – together – we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which makes the most significant investment in dealing with climate change ever anywhere in the history of the world, literally not figurative. $370 billion investment, which will reduce annual carbon emissions by 1 billion tons in 2030.

And folks, for example, it offers working families a thousand dollars a year in savings for providing rebates to buy new efficient appliances, weatherize their homes, get tax credits for purchasing heat pumps and rooftop solar, energy efficient ovens, dryers, and so much more. Provides tax credits for electric vehicles, new and used, because we convinced the auto companies on this lawn out here a year and a half ago to move to all electric vehicles in the near term. It’s a gigantic game changer. And that’s not all.

The Inflation reduction Act also is the most significant law in US history when it comes to environmental justice. Here’s just one example: air pollution around ports. Folks who live near ports know air pollution can be extreme because all trucks and all the vehicles moving goods in and out of ports and on the backs of ships are polluting the air significantly. Well, the Inflation Reduction Act includes major investments in adopting clean heavy-duty trucks and clean port equipment. And folks, it’s going to make a real difference for families who live near those ports.

We’re investing in air quality centers in communities near factories so people who live near them can know what the risk is and how safe the air is. Because we know historically red-lined communities are literally hotter because there’s more pavement, fewer trees. So we’re planting millions of new trees to cool down our city streets. And we’re also making major investments in clean energy in disadvantaged communities to lower energy costs and create good paying jobs.

Brenda was recently in Houston, where we’re building a solar farm on the site of a former landfill right in the middle of a neighborhood. Another example of what’s good for the environment is also good for jobs, Brenda. Thank you. And these are the kinds of projects we’re funding all across the country in urban, rural and suburban and tribal communities.

And then last year, Jill and I reignited the cancer moonshot to end cancer as we know it. It’s a whole government effort and one of our top priorities to better understand and prevent environmental and toxic exposures. If we do that, we know – we know we can save and extend millions of lives. Look, this is about people’s health. It’s about the health of our communities. It’s only about the future of our planet.

Just since I’ve become president, I’ve flown over literally thousands of acres of land burned flat by wildfire because of environmental changes. More acreage burned to the ground than I’ve witnessed from a helicopter in the last 19 months then are in the entire state of Maryland. As if the entire state of Maryland burned to the ground.

I’ve seen too many communities turned to rubble by storms that are growing more frequent and ferocious. And it’s an existential threat to our nation and literally to the world. I wish I could say that everyone saw it that way, but just this past week, we heard Speaker McCarthy and the MAGA – this is not your father’s Republican Party – and the MAGA Republicans in Congress want to repeal climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.

They’d rather threaten to default on the US economy or get rid of some $30 billion in taxpayer subsidies rather than get rid of $30 billion taxpayer subsidies to an oil industry that made $200 billion last year. Imagine making that choice. Imagine seeing all this happen – the wildfires, the storms, the floods – and doing nothing about it. Nothing about it. Imagine taking all these clean energy jobs away from working class folks all across America.

Imagine turning your back on all those moms and dads living in towns poisoned by pollution and telling them, “Sorry, you’re on your own.” We can’t let that happen. I mean, we really can’t let that happen. That’s why this executive order, in my view, is so important. And here are some of the things this executive order will do.

Under this order, environmental justice will become the responsibility of every single federal agency. I mean every single federal agency. That means every federal agency must take into account environmental and health impacts on communities and the work to prevent those negative impacts. Environmental justice will be the mission of the entire government, woven directly into how we work with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments.

This is an order that directs the federal agencies to address gaps in science and technology. For example, there’s a lot we still don’t know about the quality of people’s wastewater or the air they’re breathing. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the cumulative impacts of pollution on people’s health. We need to learn more so we can serve those communities better and help the world overall.

This executive order creates a new office of environmental justice and a new role for the Chief Environmental Justice Officer. They’re going to coordinate. They will coordinate all our efforts across government to make sure we’re delivering the greatest possible benefits to people’s lives. This executive order honors and builds on decades of work, including by many of you who are here today, in the private as well as public sector.

In two years, we’re making real progress in the most ambitious environmental justice agenda in history. And with this executive order, we’ll go even further. Let me close with a story.

Last January, the vice president went to Atlanta to speak to a group of four historical Black colleges and universities about voting rights. And on the flight home, I read an article about the crisis in Lowndes County – we just heard about it – Alabama, just outside of Selma, where more than 40% of the majority Black residents lack access to clean sanitation system. 40%.

The article described a local leader who said, “Without federal intervention we would’ve never had voting rights. And without federal interventions, we will never have sanitation equality either.” Well, I immediately called my team and said, “Make sure our help gets down on the ground to these folks.” And a few months later, Administrator Reagan and Secretary Vilsack and my Infrastructure Coordinator, Mitch Landreiu were down in Alabama, announcing a new intensive initiative to ensure that the poorest communities in America have access to clean, functioning wastewater systems.

And folks, the local leader who I just quoted is also the one who introduced me, Catherine. Thank you Catherine. A few months later, I went down to Selma and walked across the bridge to mark the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, several times I’ve done that. A march for the right to vote, but also for all the rights that flow from the right to vote, including the right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, and to be treated with dignity.

To all of you, we’re making progress, but there’s much more to do to finish the job. We just have to remember who we are. We’re the United States of America and there’s nothing beyond our capacity if we work together and we’re like all the people on this lawn and have done. May God bless you all, keep it up.

Now, I’m going to sign this executive order and we’re going to get to work. Thank you. Thank you.

We got some folks coming up, don’t we?

Speaker 1 (16:55):

All right, the President of the United States there, live in the Rose Garden. He is getting ready right now to sit down and sign that executive order prioritizing what he says is his environmental justice agenda. He said he wants to ensure that poverty, race, ethnic status, all of that doesn’t lead to worse exposure to pollution and environmental harm.

The president also saying he just wants to assure that everyone, every American, regardless of their race, their backgrounds, their income, where they live, will benefit from cleaner air and water. Also leading to an impact on their health, like dealing with asthma, less instances of cancer and other health burdens.

All right, let’s go ahead and listen in.

President Joe Biden (17:41):

… environmental justice for all.

Speaker 3 (17:44):

Great day. Woohoo.

President Joe Biden (17:58):

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Speaker 4 (17:59):

Thank you, sir.

Speaker 5 (17:59):

Thank you.

Speaker 1 (18:06):

Housing also, clean transportation. For more, let’s get straight to our Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce. She is there in the Rose Garden, and of course always having to battle the band in instances like this, Mary. Every time we’ve covered an event at the White House, right, in the Rose Garden, you got to deal with the music. But tell us about this order, Mary, and how it’s going to establish, first of all, this Office of Environmental Justice at the White House and what exactly it’s going to coordinate here.

Mary Bruce (18:35):

Well, this is essentially trying to put this issue front and center. This is, in many ways, a largely symbolic order. There’s not a lot that the president can do on this issue beyond what he has already done, but this certainly sends a powerful message about how important the president thinks this issue is and the weight that he wants to give to this matter.

So this is essentially making environmental justice the mission of every single executive agency. It’s creating this new office within the White House Council and Environmental Quality, instructing agencies to analyze gaps in science and data. So he’s trying to take steps on this issue. And of course, you have to remember the context, the broader political context. It comes of course, as we have seen a lot of House Republicans up on Capitol Hill trying and suggest that they should roll back the Inflation Reduction Act. That took a lot of steps actually, despite the name. It actually took a lot of steps on climate and climate issues. And so the president’s trying to balance that out here with this announcement and also make strides on an issue that he feels very passionately about.

Speaker 1 (19:30):

Sure. Talking about the GOP, Biden clearly, he’s looking to reelection here and he wants to draw contrast between his agenda and that of Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, also all the GOP lawmakers that have talked about less regulation for oil production as its answer to lowering energy prices. And the president is going up against that.

Mary Bruce (19:55):

Yeah, exactly. He is trying to draw those sharp contrasts. And of course he’s trying to draw a sharp contrast at a time where we are in a bit of a budget fight here in Washington. And also, of course, as the president, as you noted, is gearing up to run for reelection.

So any opportunity that he can take to show areas where he is taking steps, where he feels that Republicans are trying to either reverse some of those actions or take steps that he feel would be harmful to the environment, and you certainly are going to see the president and this administration try and seize those opportunities.

Speaker 1 (20:23):

All right. Mary Bruce, thank you so much. And as we noted, now Chief White House Correspondent. Congratulations, Mary. You know we had to say something.

Mary Bruce (20:34):

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Speaker 1 (20:34):

So onward in the journey. Yes.

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