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What Does Biden’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice Mean for Frontline Communities?

Written by on 25/04/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

In addition to announcing his bid for reelection in 2024 today, President Biden has signed an executive order establishing an Office of Environmental Justice within the White House. Biden unveiled his plan at a ceremony in the Rose Garden Friday just ahead of Earth Day.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Environmental groups welcomed the announcement but cautioned Biden remains a major supporter of fossil fuels, having approved drilling projects on federal land faster than Trump did during his first two years in office.

For more, we’re joined in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the Roundhouse. That’s where the New Mexico Legislature is housed. We’re joined by Jade Begay, director of policy and advocacy at the NDN Collective. She’s on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She’s speaking to us today in her personal capacity, a citizen of Tesuque Pueblo and also Diné and Southern Ute.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Jade. Can you talk about this office that has been set up? And if you could comment on President Biden announcing his campaign for reelection today?

JADE BEGAY: Yeah. Good morning, Amy. Great to be here.

Well, this entire executive order is really exciting. I’m really excited about what it means for our tribes and moving us from an era of consultation to an era of consent. I’m excited about what this means for strengthening our regulatory processes, which have impacts on the projects that you mentioned, the harmful projects that we’re seeing approved. Hopefully, with this order, we’ll see the regulatory process mean more justice for our communities.

As far as the office, you know, we’re excited that that is happening. It’s never — that’s never been done before, and it signals to us that environmental justice is not just a program or not just a proclamation. There’s going to be real people working on this, day in, day out, in the White House, making sure that there’s accountability, making sure that there’s transparency, and making sure that there’s real teeth to this executive order.

As far as the announcement around the reelection bid, I just — I feel excited to motivate the people I work with, because, really, we know what’s at stake. And I think, as far as my own personal opinions go, there’s one option here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And does this executive order, from what you can tell, have any real or strong enforcement mechanisms? And how would it, for instance, affect the exposures to toxins in tribal communities where you are, in the Rio Grande Basin?

JADE BEGAY: Yeah. So, it definitely does. I kind of want to broaden out. So, you know, projects — as Amy mentioned, there have been harmful projects approved by this administration. And I think a couple things can be true at one time. Yes, those actions have been taken. Also, the administration just took the strongest action it can take to embed environmental justice into the DNA of the entire federal government.

So, now with this executive order — and this is the part that I’m really excited about, is that federal agencies have to think about, analyze, do research on cumulative impacts for new projects and also their own operations. Prior to this executive order, when a new project or new infrastructure, like a power plant or a pipeline, was proposed, the agency only had to do research or analysis on the pollution and emissions of that project in isolation, not accounting for all the emissions and pollution of the past or present. So, with this new order, they have to take in account all pollution — past, present, future — and that’s really going to lead to seeing some more justice and seeing less sacrifice zones, especially in my community.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the response of Republicans, some key Republican leaders saying this is basically waste, more government waste, directed at this effort, your response?

JADE BEGAY: That’s an interesting response. I haven’t really paid attention to what Republicans are saying. But, you know, the fact of the matter is, Republicans are steadfast working on their H.R. 1, this Energy Savings Act, which is essentially trying to dismantle some of our bedrock environmental protections, like NEPA, when we really, especially frontline communities like the community I come from and the communities impacted first and worst by environmental injustice, need those regulations and policies strengthened. And that’s what this executive order does.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jade Begay, we want to thank you very much for being with us, director of policy and advocacy at the NDN Collective, on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, speaking to us in her own capacity. She’s a citizen of Tesuque Pueblo, also Southern Ute and Diné. We thank you so much for being with us from the Roundhouse, the Capitol building in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director, Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick.

To see our shows, in podcast, video or audio, you can go to You can also get our daily digest. Just go to to sign up. Also, to see the various topics we cover throughout the years, our 27 years, you can go to I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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