An Agenda Rooted in Environmental Justice

The Biden-Harris administration is mobilizing an all-of-government approach to advance environmental justice. As part of those efforts, the Department of the Interior is implementing an ambitious agenda to center justice, equity and inclusion in all our work.  

Secretary Deb Haaland and leaders across the Department know that our work must proactively ensure that historically underrepresented communities benefit from our efforts to clean up legacy pollution, boost the clean energy economy, and make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to everyone.  

Secretary Haaland plants a tree alongside children at the San Diego Wildlife Refuge.

A New Era 

Communities of color, rural and Indigenous communities, low-income families, and people in the U.S. territories have long suffered disproportionate and cumulative harm from the climate crisis, from air and water pollution to the legacy pollution of toxic sites. 

As we acknowledge that reality, we have made environmental justice a central part of our mission. 

The Department is in a new era as we develop programs, policies and activities that address long-standing environmental injustices and ensure that historically marginalized communities have greater input on and receive enhanced benefits from federal policies and decisions. 

Our efforts to advance environmental justice include: 

  • Making America’s public lands and waters more accessible and inclusive 
  • Cleaning up legacy pollution 
  • Fighting the climate crisis 

Making America’s Public Lands and Waters More Accessible and Inclusive 

Nature is essential to the health, well-being, and prosperity of every family and every community in America — but not everyone has the same equitable access to nature.  

We are committed to ensuring that everyone, no matter their background or zip code, can enjoy the benefits of green spaces and the outdoors. Through the America the Beautiful initiative and our efforts to conserve lands and waters, we are working to create more parks and safe outdoor opportunities in nature-deprived communities. Programs like the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, and Urban National Wildlife Refuges seek to increase equitable access to the outdoors, particularly in urban communities, communities of color, and Indigenous communities.  

In November 2021, Secretary Haaland took significant steps to make America’s public lands and waters more inclusive to all. Through a series of actions, Secretary Haaland established a process to review and replace derogatory names of the nation’s geographic features to ensure our lands and waters are places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression. As part of that effort, she also officially designated an offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women, as derogatory and created a federal task force to replace its name throughout our federal lands.  

As this work moves forward, the Department will center the voices of and representation from Indian Tribes, Tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations, civil rights, anthropology, and history experts, and members of the general public. Together, these actions accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a significant step in honoring the ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial. 

Cleaning Up Legacy Pollution 

Legacy pollution caused by environmental hazards like abandoned mines and orphaned oil and gas wells have impacted Black, Brown, Indigenous, and rural communities for generations. Millions of Americans live within a mile of an abandoned mine or orphaned well, which pollute backyards, waterways, recreation areas, and public spaces across the country. These untreated sites also spew methane, a toxic greenhouse gas that is a major cause of climate change.  

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes an historic $16 billion investment to plug orphan wells and reclaim abandoned mine lands, which will help communities eliminate dangerous environmental conditions and pollution, while also improving local economies and creating good-paying union jobs.  

These efforts also advance the Administration’s Justice40 initiative, a whole-of-government effort to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. The nationwide efforts to clean up this legacy pollution will advance our environmental justice and economic empowerment goals.  

Fighting the Climate Crisis 

The climate crisis has no boundaries. Every community faces the pain and heartache that extreme weather events bring, but communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities face disproportionate impacts. The time to act on climate is now, and that action must be rooted in justice, equity and inclusion. 

As directed by President Biden, the Interior Department is partnering with federal agencies to increase renewable energy production on public lands and waters —including a commitment to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and a target goal of permitting at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy by 2025. 

As part of our efforts to advance a clean energy future, we are seeking to ensure that new renewable energy projects benefit historically underrepresented communities. Through new offshore wind production, for example, we are requiring companies to enhance engagement with Tribes, other ocean users, and underserved communities. The Interior Department will hold companies accountable for improving their engagement, communication and transparency with these communities. 

We are also working to increase clean energy production on Tribal lands. Projects like the Southern Bighorn Solar Project in Nevada will support local Tribal economies while adding to the nation’s clean energy supply.  

Moving Forward with an Eye Toward Equity 

The Department of the Interior will continue to play a central role in how the United States stewards its public lands, increases environmental protections, pursues environmental justice, and honors our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes. 

We have no time to waste in taking action to protect public lands, the environment, and Americans’ lives and futures. Interior will continue to take the bold action desperately needed to ensure all communities — including communities of color and urban, rural, and Indigenous communities — benefit from an aggressive and whole-of-government response to advancing environmental justice.