Blog

Building Just, Equitable, and Effective Environmental Governance Under Biden

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: For media inquiries, please contact EDGI communications coordinator Shannan Lenke Stoll, ShannanStoll.edgi@gmail.com

When President elect Joe Biden and Vice-President elect Kamala Harris take office on January 20, 2021, they will need to respond quickly to the compounding disasters of the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating climate crisis, both of which have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially Black and Indigenous communities. The need for bold climate action and for a federal leadership deeply rooted in justice have never been greater. Both will require more effective environmental data and governance systems that put justice and equity at their center.   

Over the past four years, the Trump administration has curtailed public access to climate and environmental information and handicapped the country’s lead environmental agency responsible for regulating environmental hazards. Nobody has catalogued these attacks more than the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI). The cross disciplinary and primarily volunteer team at EDGI has assessed the damage in white papers, academic articles, technical reports, public comments, blogs, and editorials. Now with the incoming Biden administration, this work is more vital than ever. 

Since holding its first data rescue event on December 17, 2016, EDGI has worked as a watchdog to document and analyze changes to environmental governance under the Trump administration. Under Biden, EDGI’s work will provide a detailed accounting of the information and systems most in need of restoration and repair. Moving forward, EDGI plans to track progress made to rebuild and democratize federal environmental agencies and federal environmental information. 

Just and equitable governance requires more than restoration of what was lost and damaged under Trump. Throughout their campaign, Biden and Harris promised to Build Back Better, and that’s what’s needed here, too. 

EDGI’s work has revealed long-standing inadequacies in federal environmental information policies. Many of these were outdated before Trump took office. New tools and major adaptations to federal environmental data infrastructure are necessary to bring federal environmental monitoring up to a modern standard. EDGI will continue to identify ways data can be made more publicly accessible and useful to the communities that need it.

The failure of U.S. federal environmental regulatory systems to hold industry responsible for the environmental harms inflicted on vulnerable groups also existed before Trump took office. EDGI has pioneered the concept of Environmental Data Justice and pushed to ensure that environmental data is made more public and accessible, that the digital face of environmental agencies is more legible and genuinely informative, and that all these as well as agency regulations and enforcement serve a collective benefit that extends to our society’s least advantaged. EDGI will continue this work, and its members look forward to pressing the new administration, Congress, and the larger public on how to advance our nation’s environmental data, information, and governance systems in ways that are inclusive, democratic, and just.

Members from EDGI’s working groups, on the ongoing work of building just, equitable, and effective environmental governance under Biden: 

Faith in federal institutions is failing. The last four years have demonstrated gaping holes in information and oversight policies and practices that have allowed unprecedented politicization of environmental management and protection. Through historical commentary, public comments, op-eds and speech annotations, we hope to help members of the public understand the deeper roots and social implications of forms of environmental damage, environmental policy, and environmental rhetoric.
Emily Pawley, member of EDGI’s Environmental History Action Collaborative working group

The people most impacted by environmental pollution and climate disasters, most often communities of color, have been doubly impacted by COVID-19. Our new Environmental Enforcement Watch collaborative develops data tools and public workshops that allow the public to generate report cards on the record of compliance with and enforcement of environmental laws. We hope to draw attention to industries’ failure to comply with environmental laws and improve EPA enforcement by making data more accessible to impacted communities, journalists, researchers, and regulators.
Sara Wylie, member of EDGI’s Environmental Data Justice working group

Failure to modernize environmental data reporting requirements over the last years leaves the public with few reliable tools for accountability; an administration with an interest in accountability in the environmental sector should audit and update rules and recommendations for emissions reporting in order to produce clarity around what permits are and are not being violated. EDGI’s data team has been working closely with EPA’s ECHO data and will continue to identify ways—and offer open source tools—to make it more accessible and useful to the communities impacted by environmental hazards as well as the legislators responsible for overseeing environmental laws.
Kelsey Breseman, member of EDGI’s Data working group 

Biden’s climate platform and his record on climate issues don’t align, and he faces an Executive Branch sorely hobbled by four years of Trump. EDGI will push for rebuilding, fortifying, and democratizing our environmental agencies, while keeping our eye on internal deliberation, transparency, and pursuit of more effective climate policies. We aim to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable for addressing the climate crisis head on.
Chris Sellers, member of the EDGI’s Policy and Interviewing working group 

This is a critical moment in the use of mis- and dis-information, made possible by a lack of broad access to reliable and verifiable data and information. We’re developing tools, and providing in-depth analyses, to make federal environmental data, information, and deliberation more accessible. The next administration must be held accountable to better democratic processes in environmental decision-making, which pivots on accessible public information.
Gretchen Gehrke, member of EDGI’s Website Monitoring working group 

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The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) analyzes federal environmental data, websites, institutions, and policy. We seek to improve environmental data stewardship and to promote environmental health and environmental justice.