How States Can Help Implement the Justice40 Initiative
As we recognize Justice40’s 2-year anniversary and look to future, we must ensure that communities in all 50+ states and territories can realize the benefits of Justice40.
Two years ago today, the Justice40 Initiative was created by President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14008, kicking off a whole-of-government approach to integrating equity and justice into all federal spending on tackling the climate crisis. The executive order lays out the goal that 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean energy investments should be directed to “disadvantaged communities.” Since then, the White House and all federal agencies have been working to operationalize Justice40, from figuring out how to identify which communities should receive Justice40 funds to designing methodologies for calculating benefits.
Justice40 got a big boost from two key bills—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act. While many of the investments in these laws will be implemented by federal agencies, a large portion will be directed to states, territories, and localities. It will be up to them to ensure federal funds are distributed in line with Justice40 goals and principles to deliver real benefits to communities. So how can it be done?
State and local legislation
Several state legislatures have taken up bills on Justice40. South Carolina was the first state to consider a Justice40 Oversight Committee, which was introduced by State Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter and had strong support from local environmental justice (EJ) leaders, such as Harold Mitchell Jr., former state representative and founder of the ReGenesis Community Development Corporation. California’s legislature saw movement on the California Justice40 Act, which would not only have created a Justice40 Advisory Committee but would have enshrined Justice40 in state law. California’s bill was spearheaded by several EJ groups, including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN, California Green New Deal Coalition, and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE).
Delaware, which has a long legacy of environmental injustices, was the first state to successfully establish a Justice40 Oversight Committee. It was created to “locate and help organize disadvantaged communities to ensure that these communities derive the full benefit of [federal] credits, grants, and loans to improve the overall quality of life in Delaware.” Members include state legislature representatives, state agency heads, and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC). The committee held listening sessions across Delaware and worked with state agencies on Justice40 implementation tools, such as the development of the state’s environmental justice screening tool. Establishing this committee—which was advocated for by local EJ leaders such as Delaware Concerned Citizens for Environmental Justice and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), a national network of grassroots environmental and economic justice organizations and advocates—allowed local residents to have a stronger voice in the deployment of federal funds and gave teeth to Justice40 at the state level. The River Network has created a model resolution for establishing a state oversight committee.
Bills like these are great first steps in ensuring state accountability for upholding Justice40 principles. In combination with oversight and guidance from federal agencies, state and local legislation empower Justice40 and give it the necessary support to ensure EJ communities have the best chance of accessing Justice40 funds. For communities located in states that are unlikely to see the passage of a state Justice40 bill, local municipalities have the agency to pass their own Justice40 bills at the city and county levels.
The role of state agencies
Aside from legislation, state agencies are another opportunity to boost Justice40 implementation. These agencies are often charged with implementing federal funds at the state level—for example, the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona (WIFA) administers Arizona’s share of funding under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a Justice40-covered program that received funding under IIJA. Here are some actions that state agencies can take to maximize community benefits from federal funds, in line with recommendations from the Equitable & Just National Climate Platform (EJNCP):
- Listen to the local community: Perform proactive and meaningful outreach to communities and engage with them on solutions that fit their specific needs.
- Utilize available resources: Federal agencies, the White House, the WHEJAC, and nonprofits have offered guidance and recommendations on Justice40 implementation. Using screening tools that have undergone review by frontline communities, such as the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), to determine where to direct Justice40 funds will ensure the right communities receive investment.
- The EJNCP developed a Justice40 Funding Finder for community groups, localities, and states to see what available funding under Justice40 is available.
- Offer technical assistance and capacity building: Applications for funding and reporting requirements are often burdensome to community groups with limited resources; being available to help guide applicants through these processes can mitigate the burden.
- Ease application and reporting requirements when able: State agencies have the ability to simplify applications and reporting requirements for potential applicants, even while complying with federal regulations regarding state funding. Recognizing where this is possible can draw more funding applications from EJ communities.
These are just some of the ways that states can play a vital role in Justice40 implementation. As we recognize Justice40’s two-year anniversary and look to the future, we must ensure that communities in all 50-plus states and territories can realize the benefits of Justice40.
Members of the Equitable & Just National Climate Platform (EJNCP) and the California Green New Deal Coalition contributed to this blog post.