President Joe Biden signed an executive order on April 21 to “revitalize” America’s commitment to “environmental justice for all.”

“Environmental justice will be the mission of the entire government woven directly into how we work with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

The order tells executive branch agencies to use data and scientific research to understand how pollution hurts people’s health, so that work can be done to limit any damage. Under the order, executive agencies would be required to inform nearby communities if toxic substances were released from a federal facility.

As part of the announcement, Vice President Kamala Harris is separately traveling to Miami, Florida, to announce $562 million to help protect communities against the impacts of climate change.

According to a White House statement, the executive order is part of the Biden–Harris administration’s whole-of-government effort to confront “longstanding environmental injustices and inequities.”

“For far too long, communities across our country have faced persistent environmental injustice through toxic pollution, underinvestment in infrastructure and critical services, and other disproportionate environmental harms often due to a legacy of racial discrimination including redlining. These communities with environmental justice concerns face even greater burdens due to climate change,” the statement reads.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris believe that every person has a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community—now and into the future. During his first week in office, President Biden launched the most ambitious environmental justice agenda in our nation’s history. To continue delivering on that vision, today the President will sign an executive order further embedding environmental justice into the work of federal agencies to achieve real, measurable progress that communities can count on,” it adds.

Under the order, all executive branch agencies will need to incorporate “the pursuit of environmental justice” into their missions while agencies will be directed to consider measures to address and prevent disproportionate and adverse environmental and health impacts on communities, including those related to the impacts of pollution and “other burdens like climate change.”

‘Racism a Fundamental Driver’ of Environmental Injustice

Agencies will also have to notify nearby communities in the event of a release of toxic substances from a federal facility and share information about such a release like possible health risks or necessary precautions, with the public.

Biden’s order also recognizes “that racism is a fundamental driver of environmental injustice” and directs agencies to “actively facilitate meaningful public participation and just treatment of all people in agency decision-making”

It also directs federal agencies to make scientific data and information on environmental and health concerns more publicly accessible to communities, adds agencies to the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council to help further the governments strategy to address climate “injustice,” and charges federal agencies with conducting new assessments regarding their environmental justice efforts.

The order is in sharp contrast to proposals by Republican lawmakers that passed last month aimed at restoring America’s energy independence and lower costs amid soaring energy prices.

Under those proposals, environmental regulations would be scaled down and oil and gas drilling would be expanded, with fossil fuel projects being fast-tracked and Biden banned from declaring a moratorium on the use of fracking unless such a moratorium is authorized by Congress.

Earlier this week, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also unveiled GOP proposals to address the debt ceiling—which includes huge cuts to government spending—as Washington remains in a deadlock over the issue.

Biden has refused to negotiate with Republicans on the matter and has said that any spending cuts will only happen once the debt limit is raised.

Biden Takes Aim at GOP Proposals

Under the GOP proposals (pdf), tax incentives for electric vehicles, which Biden has heavily campaigned for since taking office, would be repealed, as would tax incentives for renewable energy. Biden’s roughly $400 billion student debt relief plans would also be canceled, as would the remaining funds from the $5.2 trillion Congress approved between 2020 and 2022 to grant relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden signed a measure earlier this month ending the COVID-19 national emergency more than three years after it was enacted.

The debt limit bill includes the House GOP’s major package of energy proposals—the Lower Energy Costs Act—passed last month.

Overall, the plan would raise the debt ceiling for a year, return the federal government spending to fiscal year 2022 levels, and then limit the growth of spending over the next 10 years to 1 percent annual growth.

McCarthy said on the House floor that the bill would save American taxpayers $4.5 trillion, although no official cost estimates have been released as of yet.

“These spending limits are not draconian, they’re responsible. Federal spending exploded in the past two years by 17 percent. And that doesn’t include trillions in COVID-era spending,” McCarthy said. “By limiting government spending, we will reduce inflation and restore fiscal discipline in Washington.”

Speaking at a press conference in Accokeek, Maryland on Wednesday, Biden declared that “MAGA Republicans in Congress are threatening to default on the national debt” and that the GOP proposals would severely impact “hardworking people” and the middle class.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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