In 2019, Joe Biden promised Americans he would end the use of fossil fuels nationally.

“I guarantee we’re going to end fossil fuels,” Biden told an environmental activist while campaigning in New Hampshire. However, many activists gave the statement a side-eye, given that Biden made this comment a day after attending a fundraiser hosted by Western LG, a natural gas company. 

But it seems he is trying to keep his campaign promise. On Friday, the Biden administration announced and signed an executive order that will make environmental justice a top priority for federal agencies. It is designed to address the disproportionate impact of pollution and climate change on communities of color. 

“Under this order, environmental justice will become the responsibility of every single federal agency — I mean, every single federal agency,” Biden said at the White House Rose Garden ceremony. 

Dr. Robert Bullard, known as “the father of environmental justice,” showed support for Biden’s executive order on Twitter. 

“A BIG DEAL! Biden to Create White House Office of Environmental Justice,” he wrote.

Indeed, ending the extraction of fossil fuels in the United States would have significant health benefits for communities that have borne the brunt of the effects of production. For example, with less fossil fuel production, there could be less smoke inhalation, childhood asthma, and cancer. 

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“Imagine being a parent, scared to death what the air and water was going to do to your kids,” Biden said. “This kind of inequality and injustice goes against everything we stand for in this nation, but it continues to exist.”

Part of Biden’s new pledge also includes developing the Office of Environmental Justice under the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  

President Biden and the administration have answered the call.”

catherine coleman flowers, white house environmental justice advisory council

“For years, communities across the country impacted by environmental injustices have been calling for action,” Catherine Coleman Flowers, Vice Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, wrote in an email to Word in Black. The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council is the first council of its kind to be started by a president.

“President Biden and the administration have answered the call, not only by dedicating resources and funding to tackling environmental justice issues, but by making sure that community voices are involved in the process,” Coleman wrote.

But What’s Going on With Biden and Oil Drilling?

Although the president’s executive order puts environmental justice at the forefront, he has courted controversy by accepting campaign funds from the oil and gas industry, as well as greenlighting new oil drilling projects. 

In March, the Biden administration committed to the ConocoPhillips Willow Project, a 16 million-acre oil and gas project in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. ConocoPhillips is the largest oil producer in Alaska, and the inlet is Alaska’s oldest producing oil and gas basin. 

“This is not compatible with a livable future and is a textbook example of environmental racism,” climate influencer WaWa Gatheru said in a video addressing the project on TikTok. 

The Willow Project could include as many as 199 wells with three drilling sites, and, according to experts, it could potentially produce 576 million barrels of oil in 30 years. 

In March, when asked about the Willow Project on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Vice President Kamala Harris dodged Colbert’s questions.

“I understand the concerns that have been made,” she said. “But here’s the thing, when you look at what our administration has done, it’s historic in terms of an investment in a clean energy economy.”  

Harris added that the Biden administration is “putting America back on the map globally, recognizing that we must live up to our role, in terms of our ability to invest in the future, create jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Six environmental groups sued to stop the massive oil drilling project, and Indigenous Alaskans have spoken out against the project.

“Once again, we find ourselves going to court to protect our lives, our communities, and our future,” Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of the group Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, told the Anchorage Daily News.

“The Biden administration’s approval of the ConocoPhillips Willow project makes no sense for the health of the Arctic or the planet, and comes after numerous calls by local communities for tribal consultation and real recognition of the impacts to land, water, animals, and people,” he said.

Support From Prominent Black Environmentalists

Despite this, many Black environmental activists appear hopeful that the executive order is a step in the right direction.

This executive order is a promise made and a promise kept by the Biden Administration.

dr. beverly wright, Deep south center for environmental justice

Dr. Beverly Wright, founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said she believes Biden’s historic decision will make a serious impact. 

“This executive order is a promise made and a promise kept by the Biden Administration. I was a part of the team that worked on the original executive order signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Although it was an historic step in the right direction, it lacked accountability measures to ensure its efficacy,” she said. 

Wright also said, “to ensure accountability, each agency will report all progress made directly to the President,” and acknowledged that although the “executive order is historic, much work must be done to achieve true environmental justice.”

LaTricea D. Adams, the founder, CEO, and president of Black Millennials 4 Flint, also expressed support for the executive order.

In a statement, Adams said the executive order “is a reflection of the work of our ancestors and elders, and a signal to the next generation of EJ leaders to continue the fight until environmental justice is truly achieved for all.”

In a recent tweet, The Black Voters Matter Fund expressed similar sentiments. 

“President Biden’s executive order on ‘environmental justice’ is a positive step towards addressing pollution burdens faced by Black communities and people living in poverty. It’s time to prioritize our health and well-being.”

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