Two White House environmental justice (EJ) advisors say they hope that communities that fail to qualify for so-called Justice40 funds using a Biden administration screening tool that precludes race as a factor will be able to use their just-launched alternative tool that includes race to advocate for why they should be eligible to receive the funds.
One of the goals of the alternative tool is to be able to serve as a “rapid response” when a community needs data to help it win funding under the Inflation Reduction Act or Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Robert Bullard, of the Bullard Center for Environmental & Climate Justice at Texas Southern University, who is one of the leaders of the effort, said during a March 21 press conference.
“This is time for our communities . . . to be empowered to get these resources that have long been denied,” Bullard said.
Bullard and Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice -- both of whom are also members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) -- held the press conference to launch training on how to use the alternate tools to 22 groups from 10 states.
The press conference marked the next step in the advisors’ ongoing effort to craft an alternative to the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), which excludes race as a criterion because of Biden administration concerns that such provisions would not withstand legal scrutiny from the conservative Supreme Court majority that opposes race-based preferences.
The CEJST is used to identify “disadvantaged communities” that are eligible for funds under Justice40, the Biden administration program aimed at ensuring that such communities receive 40 percent of the benefits of certain federal spending.
Their alternative to CEJST, known as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Climate & Environmental Justice Screening Tool (HCEJST), was developed with a $4 million grant from the Bezos Foundation.
David Padgett, an associate professor of geography at Tennessee State University who was the lead of the HBCU technical team that developed the alternate tool, told the press conference that the tool will provide environmental variables beyond “the limited information provided in the CEJST.”
“So if a community wants to show its specific housing value has changed through gentrification, which would perhaps make it not disadvantaged” under the CEJST, “they can show that yes, everything else about our community makes us disadvantaged. . . . Our tool includes race which should always be part of any determination of people being disadvantaged given the history of this country,” Padgett said.
Bullard called race the most important factor in determining whether a community is disadvantaged and said the community-based organizations (CBO) being trained will learn how to compare the HCEJST with the CEJST and other tools, and will be able to show why they should be eligible for funding if excluded from the CEJST.
Padgett said for CEQ “to leave race out is curious at best, insulting at least.” He explained he put together a team of geographic information system experts from HBCUs and they will spend the next three days training the 22 CBOs gathered at Texas Southern.
Dawn Reeves (email@example.com)