In January 2021, the Biden Administration launched the Justice40 Initiative, calling for historic investments in environmental justice. Within a broader climate executive order, this stated the goal of having 40 percent of the benefits of climate investments be directed toward environmental justice communities.
In this blog, we will break down various terms used in the executive order and how communities can access opportunities during the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and announcement of additional funding resources.
What is Justice40?
The Justice 40 Initiative (J40) is the broad term given for President’s goal of directing 40 percent of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. These are areas that have been underinvested in and which are disproportionately affected by climate change. The White House describes it as a whole-of-government effort and has directed all agencies to outline equity action plans.
Since J40 initiatives span the federal government, there are various ways to track efforts under the J40 umbrella. One way is through Harvard University’s Federal Environmental Justice Tracker, which also makes note of commitments and investments made by private organizations and individuals. In May, the White House also released a webpage dedicating to being transparent on J40 initiatives.
What is environmental justice?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as “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.” Environmental justice is often referred to as EJ.
What is an environmental justice community, and where are they?
Environmental justice communities are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. Specifically, as it relates to J40, these communities may also be referred to as disadvantaged or frontline communities. The Justice40 Initiative has begun to map and identify these communities in order to target investments and released two screening tools: CEJST and the EJSCREEN.
- The Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool (CEJST) uses 21 indicators to define and identify “communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.” Indicators include exposure to various forms of pollution, energy burden, expected agriculture and building loss rate, low-income, and rates of chronic health conditions. Public engagement opportunities regarding the CEJST are listed here.
- The EPA’s EJSCREEN 2.0 compares environmental and demographic information between locations. This tool uses similar environmental indicators as the CEJST, but has seven demographic indicators, including percent of people of color.
What are equity action plans?
As part of the J40 Initiative, government agencies were directed to write equity action plans to achieve J40 goals, implement accountability mechanisms, and identify success metric and milestones toward agency goals. Twenty-five plans have been issued to date, including from the Department of Energy (DOE) and Small Business Administration (SBA).
Finally, how do I get involved with Justice40 opportunities?
If you’re looking to get involved, CEBN recommends:
Making your voice heard by responding to a Request for Information (RFI). RFIs related to Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and other funding opportunities are frequently released. You can find the ones open now at the BIL hubs for NASEO and NETL, as well as Grants.gov, and search for those concerning EJ issues. Each RFI has a topic and a date to submit comments by. Once this date passes, the relevant federal agency reviews all the information submitted.
Applying to or partnering with others on a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) or Request for Proposals (RFP). Simply put, FOAs and RFPs are the government terms for grants, contracting opportunities, and other ways to apply for funding. Whether you are a business, nonprofit, or university, these announcements are the first place to look to see what funding is available.
Many FOAs may not seem directly related to EJ but do have EJ components. For example, companies applying to general FOAs may be evaluated on EJ criteria, such as the diversity of their company and customers, workforce initiatives, and the impact of their work on EJ communities. Knowing what FOAs and RFPs are out there is beneficial as you can apply for funding yourself, form partnerships with other applicants, or raise awareness about funding opportunities in your own community. CEBN provides real-time updates on funding opportunities through our complimentary U.S. Cleantech Funding Database and blog series, Breaking Down the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Finding teaming partners and building relationships. There are organizations and small businesses doing good work on climate and clean energy solutions across the country. Want to connect with a Tribal College working on clean water, or an HBCU with a strong science program? We encourage innovators and entrepreneurs to expand their network in order to multiply their impact. Fill out CEBN’s teaming form to be included in a growing list of potential partners and look for teaming forms created by the DOE for specific FOAs, such as this one regarding community geothermal. If you’re looking for a quick action, join CEBN’s LinkedIn group and post a message about what you can offer to work towards environmental justice, and what partners you could benefit from meeting.
Joining NEJAC and WHEJAC public meetings. These acronyms stand for advisory groups working on EJ issues. The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) was first established in 1993 and provides recommendations to the EPA Administrator. The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) was established by President Biden in 2021 to partner with NEJAC and expand advisory capabilities across the federal government. Both hold meetings open the public – sign up here for NEJAC and here for WHEJAC meetings.
Sign up for updates. New announcements and opportunities for engagement can be found on the White House’s EJ webpage and will be tracked in CEBN’s newsletter.
To discover more federal programs, take a look at the other entries in our Insight into Federal Programs series, which features deep dives on existing programs that can help you build your business or organization.