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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 5, 2023

Biden’s pledge for clean energy investment is in the works, but lacks system to track spending

While running for president in 2020, Joe Biden pledged that "disadvantaged communities" would get 40% of the overall benefits of federal spending on clean energy and energy efficiency.

That includes investing in cleaner mass transit, retrofitting homes and upgrading old water pipes in communities that, for example, have more air or water pollution, or lack greenspace or indoor plumbing.

In 2021, Biden included the 40% target in an executive order on climate change. Since then, the Biden administration has taken more steps to roll out clean energy programs. Many of those efforts continue or have yet to launch. 

'Justice40 Initiative'

Biden's executive order included a "Justice40 Initiative" that asked federal officials to recommend how certain federal expenditures could advance the 40% goal. 

In May 2022, the White House responded to the recommendations. That included using $500 million to replace school buses with "zero-emission" and low-emission models and adding $500 million to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to reduce energy bills for households with young children, older Americans and people with disabilities.

The Inflation Reduction Act, a 2022 law with several climate change provisions, called for block grants to fund community projects to address pollution in disadvantaged communities.

The administration plans to create an "environmental justice scorecard" to measure progress toward the 40% goal. But it hasn't created that tracking system yet, so it's hard to determine the administration's success so far. 

In October, the Federation of American Scientists assessed how well federal agencies have fulfilled the "Justice40 Initiative" recommendations.

The federation said agencies reported "tangible progress" on half of the recommendations, such as reducing exposure to lead and investing in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Adrien Salazar, policy director of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, told PolitiFact the Biden's administration is progressing on his promise, but is also making contradictory moves.

The administration has progressed on Justice40 this year "directly in response to the feedback of environmental justice communities and leaders, which made repeated requests for more robust, rigorous and transparent implementation of environmental justice commitments this administration has made," Salazar said.

But the progress has been "hobbled" by the administration's efforts to expand energy technologies that cause pollution, including expansion of fossil fuels, he said.

Biden pledged to give disadvantaged communities 40% of spending benefits related to clean energy. The administration has progressed on some efforts, but has not created a system to track spending.

We rate this promise In the Works.

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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg July 20, 2021

Congress holds key on clean energy dollars to poorer communities

Candidate Joe Biden yoked action on climate change to the broader goal of reducing inequality in America. On his campaign website, he promised that disadvantaged communities would get 40% of the "overall benefits of spending in the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency."

That commitment covered a long list of activities, from cleaner mass transit, to retrofitting homes, to upgrading old water pipes.

So far, as president, Biden has taken a number of steps to advance this goal. Whether the money comes through in a major way depends on Congress.

Biden first included the 40% target in his Jan. 27 executive order on climate change. He gave the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget four months to come up with a list of steps to make the promise real.

Biden followed that up on March 31 with his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan. It called for using tax credits to build "next generation industries in distressed communities." For example, hydrogen can be used to make other things, such as ammonia, or it can be used as a fuel. The first challenge is to produce it without kicking off a lot of carbon dioxide, and the second challenge is to store and move it around. It's an option that's drawing more and more attention. Biden would try to place 15 demonstration projects in poorer neighborhoods.

In April, Biden increased the budget line for environmental justice in the EPA's budget request from about $12 million to more than $900 million. 

In May, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council delivered the list of recommendations that Biden called for in his executive order. The 90-plus-page report pressed to target 40% of spending in areas such as expanding rooftop solar, job training in the renewables sector, smarter transportation plans, cleaning up past pollution and more.

In the eyes of advocates for struggling communities, this is all good news. But their focus today is on how much actually gets done.

Adrien Salazar, policy director for Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a partner in the Green New Deal Alliance, said the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate so far lacks any specific set asides for disadvantaged areas. Salazar and his colleagues hope to change that.

But one of the group's top priorities, Salazar said, is to get the right targeting language into the Democrats' massive reconciliation package. That $3.5 trillion legislation follows different parliamentary rules that allow it to pass with Democratic votes alone, and it will reflect Democratic priorities.

A lot hinges on what happens in the next few weeks. As of now, we rate this promise In the Works.


Our Sources

Joe Biden for President, The Biden plan to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future, July 14, 2020

White House, Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Jan. 27, 2021

White House, Fact sheet: The American Jobs Plan, March 31, 2021

Resources for the Future, Decarbonized Hydrogen in the US Power and Industrial Sectors, Dec. 21, 2020

White House Office of Management and Budget, FY 2022 budget letter to Senate Appropriations, April 9, 2021

White House, Environmental Justice Advisory Council, Justice40 Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, May 13, 2021

White House, Statement from CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory on Recommendations from the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, May 13, 2021

Email exchange, Adrien Salazar, policy director, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, July 18, 2021


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