The Biden administration’s ability to deliver on its climate mandate is dependent on a strong Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). CEQ is charged with coordinating environmental policy throughout the government, and the new CEQ chair must use that authority, alongside the new White House climate office, to mobilize every federal agency to defeat the climate crisis and build a just, inclusive clean energy economy. This includes a special commitment to environmental justice; to partnership with Black and Brown communities, and to Tribal rights. The next CEQ chair must also focus on working alongside state and local governments to drive effective action for climate, jobs and justice at all levels of government.
President-elect Biden’s selection of Brenda Mallory signals serious intent to ensure the climate mobilization is also mobilization for justice. Mallory would be the first Black woman to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. Her professional background is exceptionally suited to drive an interagency climate agenda, fortify the National Environmental Policy Act, and be a partner with frontline communities.
Brenda Mallory brings a deep understanding of agency rules and climate law to the Council on Environmental Quality. She previously served as CEQ General Counsel in the Obama administration and has 14 years of experience at the EPA. Her current role as the Director of Regulatory Policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center involves shaping state regulatory policy, fighting Trump Administration assaults on environmental protections, and protecting frontline communities.
The Evergreen Action Plan previously highlighted the powerful role CEQ must play in realizing a full federal government climate mobilization — in particular its role driving a deep commitment to environmental justice in the Biden Administration. Today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions for the next Council on Environmental Quality to act in the all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis:
1. Lead an All-of-Government Environmental Justice Agenda
CEQ is uniquely positioned to play a powerful role coordinating action across the entire executive branch to realize President-elect Biden’s historic environmental justice commitments. The next CEQ chair must work to ensure that every agency is integrating relevant climate and environmental justice into policy priorities and implementation. CEQ will convene the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, composed of representatives from front-line and fence-line communities, and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, as called for in Biden’s platform. CEQ should also immediately commence working with OMB and EPA to build out robust Equity Screens on major federal policy actions, including by accounting for cumulative impacts and prioritizing 40% of green federal investments in disadvantaged communities.
2. Reverse Trump’s Attacks on NEPA, and Strengthen the Federal Government’s Commitments to Climate and Equity through NEPA Implementation
The Trump administration rewrote National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules to limit the scope of agency permit reviews for large projects — allowing corporate polluters to steamroll communities and recklessly pollute our air and water. CEQ should immediately exercise its statutory authority under NEPA in rule-making that reverses these changes, and that ensures all federal agencies exercise a Climate Test, examining greenhouse gas pollution and climate vulnerability, and an Equity Screen, looking at cumulative impacts on communities, in their environmental reviews of infrastructure projects. The next CEQ chair should also rebuild NEPA thoughtfully with the recognition of the need for swifter approval of key clean and infrastructure projects necessary to reduce carbon and other pollution.
3. Deploy CEQ Staff to Lead State Climate Mobilization Councils and Build Progressive Climate Federalism
A national climate mobilization must facilitate federal partnership and collaboration across states, cities, counties, tribal nations, metropolitan planning organizations and local communities to align investments and policy implementation around a shared climate and environmental justice vision. CEQ, especially, should use its convening power as a White House office to reach across the boundaries of federalism to ensure coordination within all layers of the public sector. CEQ staff, and detailees (from other agencies, local governments and academia), should be tasked with leading interagency State Climate Mobilization Councils in states and territories throughout the country, that include all relevant federal agencies operating in that jurisdiction, just as FDR’s National Emergency Council placed field directors in each state to coordinate New Deal economic relief. These councils should coordinate across federal programs, with partnership and accountability, in service to state, local, tribal and community-led climate efforts. CEQ should also, with the White House climate office, reinstate and strengthen the White House State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force, to support, share and replicate best practices across subnational climate action. CEQ must undertake a coordinated, progressive-federalist engagement with all states and local communities, which prioritizes place-based strategies to build America’s clean energy future as a matter of economic development, as well as environmental protection.
4. Drive Federal Government Commitment to Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
America’s Tribal communities have endured centuries of unjust and discriminatory treatment from the U.S. government and economic systems. In addition to exclusion and disinvestment, Tribal lands, waters, and communities have been abused by fossil fuel corporations. The next CEQ chair must hold a firm appreciation of these current and historical injustices, and prioritize confronting them. This includes working with agencies to engage with Tribal nations in thorough, inclusive, transparent, and meaningful consultation processes. CEQ should also play a leading role in holding federal agencies accountable for the policies and government structures to fulfill the U.S. Government’s treaty obligations to Tribal nations. Additionally, CEQ should work with the Department of Interior to foster an agenda to prioritize the expansion of Tribal sovereignty and investment in Tribal communities. This should include fully empowering Tribal nations, through free, prior, and informed consent to reject fossil fuel infrastructure proposals and to engage with them in joint stewardship of their lands, waters, territories, and resources.
5. Reinvigorate the CEQ’s Office of the Federal Environmental Executive to Mobilize Climate Action Inside Federal Agencies
CEQ’s Federal Environmental Executive (FEE) has an important role in using the full power of the federal government to drive towards a 100% clean energy future. Through this office, CEQ should drive new investments and procedures that hold federal agencies accountable to the highest climate standards, and that take advantage of the federal government’s procurement power and of its facilities in communities throughout the country to leverage them for climate solutions. For example, the FEE inside CEQ should partner with the Department of Energy (DOE) and General Services Administration (GSA), through the Federal Energy Management Program, to accelerate the use of Energy Savings Performance Contracts in public buildings. And it should work with DOE and on an expedited implementation of the federal Fossil Fuel-Generated Energy Consumption Reduction rule, to eliminate fossil-fuel use in all new and renovated federal buildings, by 2023. The FEE inside CEQ should also work with OMB and other agencies to drive an all-of-government Buy Clean, Buy Fair initiative in government procurement.