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Biden officials launch ‘screening tool’ to help identify disadvantaged and polluted communities

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan speaks in November about long-standing water issues that have plagued Jackson, Miss., at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant near the city. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
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As part of its effort to address historic environmental injustices, the Biden administration launched an online screening tool Friday to identify “communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.”

The administration is calling on residents to use a “beta version” of its Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool over the next 60 days to upload data that will reveal communities with multiple pollution sources and health threats such as tainted water, poor air quality, dirty roadways and nearby Superfund sites.

“Too many American communities are still living with water that isn’t safe to drink, housing that isn’t built to withstand climate change-fueled storms, and too few opportunities to benefit from the nation’s bright and clean future,” Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Brenda Mallory said in a statement.

“The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool will help Federal agencies ensure that the benefits of the nation’s climate, clean energy, and environmental programs are finally reaching the communities that have been left out and left behind for far too long,” Mallory said.

Once the CEQ, which designed and launched the tool, has the public’s feedback, it will consult with federal departments such as Transportation, Energy, and Health and Human Services to find the communities that need some of the 40 percent of the overall benefits in climate, clean energy and other services Biden vowed to deliver.

Biden officials called the tool an important step to delivering on his campaign promise to alleviate pollution in marginalized communities by directing 40 percent of federal resources to them.

Critics have questioned if the administration can pull off such an ambitious pledge when financial aid from the federal government would have to be filtered through state governors, many of whom are hostile to the president’s initiatives. In addition, billions of dollars in funding for environmental justice initiatives are dependent on the Build Back Better plan that is stuck in Congress.

The screening tool was on a list of recommendations from the 26-member White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council formed by the CEQ. The panel asked for a high-quality program to ensure aid reached disadvantaged areas across the nation and in Native territories.

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