Environmentalists rattled after top White House climate officials unexpectedly resign

Thomas Catenacci , DCNF

Two unexpected resignations by senior White House climate officials have rattled environmental activists within and outside the administration, Politico reported.

White House Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) environmental justice director Cecilia Martinez and CEQ public engagement director David Kieve have both departed the White House over the last week. In response, three top officials appointed to President Joe Biden’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council wrote to White House chief of staff Ron Klain, asking for an explanation of how this affects administration’s climate efforts, according to Politico.

“It was a big blow to being able to believe in the administration’s seriousness to its commitment of environmental justice,” Maria Lopez-Nuñez, a member of the council, told Politico. “I have a lot of questions about what’s going on.”

The two resignations gutted the White House climate office’s environmental justice team, leaving just one official to focus on the issue, according to activists and council members interviewed by Politico. Just Martinez’s deputy, Corey Solow, remains as an environmental justice official.

“Corey is the only one left,” advisory council member and executive director of ReGenesis Community Development Harold Mitchell Jr. told Politico.

“Everybody that environmental justice people were connected with are gone,” Beverly Wright, the head of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said, according to Politico. “I’m speechless.”

But the White House has denied that Solow is the only White House official devoted to environmental justice, noting that CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory has made it a top priority.

“Our work on Environmental Justice and Justice 40 doesn’t revolve on any singular staffer — it’s integrated in the all of government approach the President has championed and we look forward to announcing at some point soon additional personnel who will continue the great work that David and Cecilia have done in the first year of the administration,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement, Politico reported.

Shortly after Biden took office in January 2021, the White House announced the so-called Justice40 initiative, the goal of which is to deliver at least 40% of federal investments in clean energy and climate solutions to disadvantaged communities. Justice40 programs have included flood mitigation plans, drinking water protection, lead hazard reduction and plans to bring renewable energy to rural communities.

In July, top White House climate officials said environmental policies “have failed to adequately account for environmental injustice.”

“President Biden has made clear that his Administration will chart a new and better course, one that puts environmental and economic justice at the center of all we do,” the officials — Mallory, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Shalanda Young and White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy — wrote.

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