President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is considering recommending environmental justice champion Mustafa Santiago Ali to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, as the incoming administration seeks to prioritize the damage pollution takes on poor and minority communities.
The deliberations, part of an effort to refocus the obscure White House agency into a hub for promoting environmental justice, was described by two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named discussing personnel recommendations.
Neither Ali nor representatives of the Biden-Harris transition immediately responded to requests for comment Saturday.
The CEQ serves as a kind of mission control coordinating environmental policy decisions and reviews across the federal government. It also oversees implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Under President Donald Trump, the agency has sought to expedite environmental permitting. But Biden has outlined plans for the agency to address environmental injustice amid a national reckoning on matters of race.
In addition to Ali, another environmental justice advocate, Cecilia Martinez, is being considered to lead the agency, Bloomberg Law reported. Martinez now heads Biden’s agency review team focused on CEQ.
Poor people and people of color often face higher exposure to pollutants, according to the American Lung Association. One reason for the discrepancy is that pollution sources — from interstate highways to refineries — tend to be located near disadvantaged communities.
“Since the beginning, environmentalism has struggled with racism and exclusion,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, a vice president at the progressive think tank Data for Progress.
“For decades, communities of color and indigenous peoples have fought to reorient environmental concerns around inclusion and justice,” said NoiseCat. “Having an environmental justice leader at the helm of CEQ would mark an incredible victory for our movement.”