On his first day as President, the first executive order President Biden signed was Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government (E.O. 13985). In February, just over two years later, President Biden signed Executive Order 14091, Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through The Federal Government. As its title suggests, this new executive order builds on the previous one and thereby furthers the Biden administration’s effort “to continuously embed equity into all aspects of Federal decision-making.”

Section 10(a) of E.O. 14091 defines equity as:

[T]he consistent and systematic treatment of all individuals in a fair, just, and impartial manner, including individuals who belong to communities that often have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander persons and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; women and girls; LGBTQI+ persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; persons who live in United States Territories; persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality; and individuals who belong to multiple such communities.

Executive Order 14091 will impact executive branch operations across the entire federal government. Nevertheless, the focus of this blog post is E.O. 14091’s impact on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

One of the first actions EPA must take to comply with E.O. 14091 is to establish an “agency equity team” by March 18, 2023. EPA’s equity team will be led by a designated senior EPA official who will report to the Administrator and will be “responsible for delivering equitable outcomes.” Other members of EPA’s equity team will include a combination of career officials and political appointees. 

EPA’s equity team will report to and coordinate with the White House Office of Management and Budget to ensure that the Agency has sufficient resources, including staffing and data collection capacity, to advance the EPA’s equity goals. These goals were recently highlighted in EPA’s 2022 Equity Action Plan, which was published last April. The six priority actions identified by EPA in its 2022 Equity Action Plan are:

Priority Action 1: Develop a comprehensive framework for considering cumulative impacts in relevant EPA decisions and operationalize that framework in EPA’s programs and activities;

Priority Action 2: Build the capacity of underserved communities to provide their experience to EPA and implement community-led projects;

Priority Action 3: Develop EPA’s internal capacity to engage underserved communities and implement clear and accountable processes to act based on communities’ input;

Priority Action 4: Strengthen EPA’s external civil rights compliance program and ensure that civil rights compliance is an agency-wide responsibility;

Priority Action 5: Integrate community science into EPA’s research and program implementation; and

Priority Action 6: Make EPA’s procurement and contracting more equitable.

Appendix 1 of EPA’s 2022 Equity Action Plan provides a summary of measures the Agency has taken thus far, including strengthening enforcement of environmental violations with disproportionate impact on underserved communities and publishing a Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities. EPA’s 2023 Equity Action Plan will likely be published in the coming months.

E.O. 14091 further requires EPA to “prioritize and incorporate strategies to advance equity” in formulating the Agency’s strategic plan, when evaluating EPA employee performance, and while forming the Agency’s regulatory agenda. E.O. 14091 also requires EPA to  coordinate with the White House Steering Committee on Equity. This committee was established by E.O. 14091 and is chaired by the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy.

In sum, E.O. 14091 will impact how EPA approaches its internal Agency operations and coordination with the White House on a bevy of legal and policy matters. Indeed, President Biden’s executive order on Further Advancing Racial Equity includes specific steps the EPA (and agencies across the federal government) must take to accomplish these ends.

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