The Biden Administration has promised to combat air pollution in communities of color. Except, race will not be considered when determining where aide goes.
The White House announced its Justice40 initiative last year, which aims to devote 40 percent of environmental cleanup resources to disadvantaged communities. The Administration noted concern at the time that the use of race in the decision making could lead to legal challenges.
However, a new report published Thursday said that while the colorblind initiative could curtail some air pollution, “it may not ameliorate the frequently larger disparities by race-ethnicity.”
"This outcome could be interpreted as undermining a core environmental justice goal: eliminating exposure disparities by race-ethnicity,” it states.
Air pollution is the cause of approximately 100,000 premature deaths in the United States every year, “which corresponds to billions of dollars of health damage each day,” according to the report. African Americans are exposed to more air pollution than any group, followed by Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and White Americans.
“If you don’t focus on race, then it’s really hard to address disparities by race,” Julian Marshall, adjunct professor at the University of Washington and report's co-author, told The Washington Post. “Many decades ago, race was an explicit part of this, and if we can’t look at race now it’s going to be much harder.”
Robert Bullard, an urban planning and environmental policy professor at Texas Southern University who sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, said that while the council understood why the Biden Administration made the initial concession it did, the report's findings are consistent with data from the past 40 years.
“That was the trade-off to getting the program out and not getting it knocked down. But you lose the power of getting at the core of what’s driving disproportionate pollution," Bullard said, adding, “America is segregated, and so is pollution. Race-neutral metrics and tools will leave out a big chunk of the problem and will not solve the structural components that disadvantage communities.”