On November 22, the Biden-Harris Administration released version 1.0 of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST). The CEJST is a geospatial mapping tool designed to identify marginalized communities in order to improve the implementation of Biden’s climate agenda. This tool is a vital component of the Justice40 Initiative, which seeks to provide 40% of federal funds for climate, energy, and sustainable infrastructure to disadvantaged communities (DACs). The Biden Administration hopes that the CEJST will help facilitate its climate goals by targeting polluted areas and incorporating a data-driven strategy into federal climate programs.
As the Biden Administration seeks to better include the US territories in its climate plans, the CEJST will designate these underrepresented areas as DACs. This classification from the US Office of Management and Budget is based on thirty-six major burden indicators, such as internet access, unemployment, and environmental indicators. As DACs, the US territories will receive increased federal aid through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. However, informational barriers have traditionally undermined the development of sustainable climate programs in the territories.
Therefore, version 1.0 of the CEJST will now include census and environmental data from the US territories. Although informational deficiencies remain, this is an important first step in improving the efficacy of Biden’s climate strategy in the territories. In order to promote greater stakeholder involvement, the CEJST will also remove language differences as a relevant barrier to sustainable energy investment. This shift will empower federal agencies to provide climate resources justly across the US territories despite language differences, a factor historically cited to justify inequitable resource distribution.
The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC), a federal agency tasked with resolving environmental injustices, guided these crucial reforms. Notably, environmental attorney and activist Ruth Santiago represents Puerto Rico as a member of the council. In a WHEJAC meeting in May, Santiago recommended a reduction to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $10 million capital minimum for community-based climate projects. This solution would promote more sustainable development and encourage localized environmental action. Further, she proposed creating more accessible air pollution monitors as part of the CEJST in order to mitigate pollution and improve data transparency in the territories.
Despite these promising measures, the US territories still lack significant representation in the development of federal climate plans. Santiago is the only WHEJAC member from outside the mainland U.S., and data from the territories remains incomprehensive and limited. These issues pose serious questions for Biden’s plans for the environmental future of the territories and must be addressed as the federal government implements its climate strategy.