The White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) is working on a scorecard intended to assess federal agencies’ efforts to advance “environmental justice.” The initiative is designed to address the president’s Executive Order Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad which orders agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their missions. The scorecard is intended to assess how well agency programs and policies address the “disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related, and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities.”
As with many things, the notion of environmental justice comes from good intentions. Often low-income communities are indeed located near industrial areas and closer to pollution sources than those who can afford better-situated real estate. Environmental justice originally focused on ensuring disadvantaged communities aren’t unduly impacted and giving them voice in environmental matters. Of course regulation should focus on reducing pollutants to protect the health of nearby residents and previously marginalized people should have a voice in issues impacting their communities. However, the concept has ballooned since the original conception while at the same time become focused on a fairly narrow range of policy prescriptions, including those aimed at eliminating oil and natural gas.
I submitted comments yesterday as part of the initial request for information. Since a proposed scorecard has not yet been developed, I chose to encourage CEQ to take a more holistic approach to environmental justice and include all factors necessary for maintaining the health, safety, and welfare of disadvantaged and low-income communities. The oil and natural gas industry has provided a positive contribution to environmental justice for over a century and a half. By enabling the internal combustion engine and other machinery that freed humans from lifetimes of menial labor and toil, oil, natural gas, and coal should be credited with the first huge environmental justice achievement in world history.
Not resting on that history, I pointed out how our industry will continue to provide overwhelming benefits to humanity today and far into the future as the foundation of human health, safety, welfare, and modern life. Without access to the energy we provide at an affordable price, environmental justice is unattainable. Conversely, stigmatizing American oil and natural gas production would only lead to energy imports from overseas and decreased access to affordable energy for low-income and disadvantaged communities, which would decrease environmental justice by putting the basic necessities of life out of reach.
I suggested a set of “environmental justice metrics” that just happen to be the same set of metrics that I used in our comments to the Securities and Exchange Commission on the climate change disclosure rule, which is otherwise meant to focus on negative externalities of oil and natural gas and none of the benefits. These positive metrics include: high-paying jobs; tax revenue that underpins all positive government programs; greenhouse gas emission reductions; public transportation and other personal mobility factors; reliable electricity; lives saved by home heating and cooling; and access to food, all at an affordable cost for disadvantaged and low-income communities.
Western Energy Alliance will continue to look for opportunities to advance the benefits of oil and natural gas and why any policy that addresses climate change, environmental justice, and equity should take those very real benefits for humanity into account.