President Joe Biden’s commitment to addressing climate and environmental injustices faced by vulnerable and historically marginalized communities is demonstrated by his administration’s transformative approach to federal agency operations.

Through a series of executive orders, including Executive Order 14096 the administration has laid the groundwork for restructuring agency operations and programs to prioritize environmental justice and equity.

A significant requirement under this new framework is for agencies to update and strengthen their Environmental Justice Strategic Plans (EJSPs). These updated plans are a key component of the administration’s “all-of-government” approach to addressing the climate crisis, designed to ensure accountability and embed and operationalize environmental justice in relevant federal activities.

Harmonizing Environmental Justice Strategic Plans with Broader Strategies and Public Engagement

Biden’s approach signifies a departure from previous administrations, emphasizing a holistic and inclusive strategy. EJSPs are designed to be harmonized and aligned with other operational strategies, such as Equity Action Plans, Agency Strategic Plans and Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plans, to ensure effective coordination across departmental programs. This alignment is critical for identifying and addressing programmatic barriers that may impede the achievement of agency environmental justice goals.

Like each of these plans, EJSPs must be developed with a robust process that allows for meaningful public engagement. However, the format, structure and content of EJSPs is further guided by input from environmental justice movement leaders on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC). Their recommendations focus on strengthening previous EJSP approaches by enabling departments to create more effective roadmaps for decision-making, resource allocation, performance measurement and updated reporting requirements.

By incorporating the insights of these leaders, EJSPs will better support the implementation of more than 500 federal programs aimed at ensuring disadvantaged communities receive at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal climate investments covered by the Justice40 Initiative.

Draft EJSPs are under development and will soon be available for public review and feedback. Some agencies have already started engaging the public through webinar events to develop their plans. The final version of federal agency plans must be submitted to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) by October.

Public Accessibility of Existing Federal Environmental Justice Strategic Plans

The U.S. Government Accountability Office conducted a review of federal environmental justice activities including the status of agency EJSPs in 2019. Their report found that “agencies’ progress toward environmental justice is difficult to gauge, however, because most do not have updated strategic plans and have not reported annually on their progress or developed methods to assess progress.”

For this article, we conducted a systematic review of online resources from 24 federal agencies, including their official websites. This review, undertaken without reaching out to agency personnel, aimed to compile a comprehensive understanding of the historical development and accessibility of EJSPs. The objective was to establish a baseline understanding of existing agency plans and identify areas for improvement as agencies prepare updated draft EJSPs for public feedback.

Our review uncovered significant deficiencies in the accessibility of previous plans, as several agencies did not have their EJSPs readily available on their websites. In certain cases, these plans were neither accessible online nor referenced in other operational documents of the agencies. The timeline of publication for agency plans was elucidated by the historical context provided in the background sections of the few EJSPs we managed to locate online. Despite some agencies having developed multi-year plans, these documents were frequently absent from available online resources.

These findings highlight significant gaps in the public accessibility and continuity of EJSP documentation across federal agencies, underscoring the need for improved transparency and consistency in the availability of these critical documents.

US Federal Agency Environmental Justice Strategic Plans

U.S. Federal Agency# of EJSPs IdentifiedPublished EJSPs Referenced in Other Documents# of Online EJSPs

Most Recent EJSP Updates


Justice40 Covered Programs
Appalachian Regional Commission000n/a2
Delta Region Authority000n/a2
Denali Commission000n/a2
Department of Agriculture3122016-202065
Department of Commerce21120112
Department of Defense2022024 draft goals and approach0
Department of Education000n/a0
Department of Energy4042019 5-year implementation plan146
Department of Health and Human Services4042022 Draft EJS13
Department of Homeland Security211EJS FY 2021-20254
Department of Justice4222024 draft summary0
Department of Labor110n/a4
Department of Transportation312201639
Department of the Interior4222024 draft goals and objectives75
Environmental Protection Agency3032016-202079
General Services Administration2022016-2018 EJ Strategy (Download)0
Department of Housing and Urban Development3122016-2020 EJS26
National Aeronautics and Space Admin10119952
National Science Foundation000n/a3
Small Business Administration000n/a0
Tennessee Valley Authority000n/a0
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers1012022 EJ Strategic Plan11
Department of Veterans Affairs1012011-2012 EJ Strategy1

Framework and Implementation Guidelines

A critical change for 2024 EJSPs is to intentionally “foster transparency, consistency, and accountability," which is driven by the directives in a new set of agency guidelines released by CEQ. This comprehensive roadmap is intended to provide direction on the development of a structured plan outline, a detailed step-by-step process for developing a strategic planning logic tool and a planning guide with a checklist to ensure effective implementation. These resources aim to ensure uniformity across agencies in meeting the mandates of Executive Order 14096. Specifically, to maintain consistency of information and to enhance transparency, plans will include:

New Definitions from Executive Order 14096:

Environmental Justice: “the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, Tribal affiliation, or disability, in agency decision-making and other Federal activities that affect human health and the environment so that people:

(i) are fully protected from disproportionate and adverse human health and environmental effects (including risks) and hazards, including those related to climate change, the cumulative impacts of environmental and other burdens, and the legacy of racism or other structural or systemic barriers; and

(ii) have equitable access to a healthy, sustainable, and resilient environment in which to live, play, work, learn, grow, worship, and engage in cultural and subsistence practices.”

Federal Activity: "any agency rulemaking, guidance, policy, program, practice, or action that affects or has the potential to affect human health and the environment, including an agency action related to climate change.”

  • An environmental justice vision statement that provides insight into the agency’s intended impact from addressing environmental inequities on the public they serve overall in the coming year, over the four years of the EJSP, and in the long-term.
  • An overview of the agency's public engagement and tribal consultation process during the development of the EJSP.
  • Details on how the agency intends to accomplish the Executive Order 14096 requirements by articulating three to five overarching goals, each supported by three to five specific objectives. Each objective will be paired with outcome-oriented performance metrics or qualitative indicators to measure the effectiveness of actions aligned with that objective. Examples of specific minimum metrics or indicators to enhance agency accountability include:
    • Public reporting by regulated entities.
    • Use of pollution measurement and other environmental impact or compliance assessment tools such as fenceline
    • Improve the effectiveness of remedies to provide relief to individuals and communities with environmental justice concerns, such as remedies that penalize and deter violations and promote future compliance, including harm mitigation and corrective action.
    • Consider whether to remove exemptions or waivers that may undermine the achievement of human health or environmental standards.

Biden’s approach to EJSPs broadens the scope of actions that agencies must consider in their strategies. The updated definitions of "federal activity" and "environmental justice" in Section 2 of Executive Order 14096 (see text box) now encompass actions related to climate change. Additionally, the revised definition for environmental justice now includes tribal affiliation and disability, expanding the groups that agencies must consider. These updates will help streamline agency responses to address the systemic barriers faced by communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and pollution.

Plans will also be available through the annual Environmental Justice Scorecard to provide transparency and accessibility to the public. CEQ developed this new tool to track and measure the progress of federal agencies in advancing environmental justice goals. The significance of the scorecard lies in its ability to hold agencies accountable, promote transparency, and ensure that environmental justice considerations are integrated into federal policies and programs, ultimately driving more effective and equitable environmental outcomes.

All updated EJSPs must be submitted to CEQ and made available to the public online by Oct. 21 and are required to be updated every four years. However, considering these initiatives result from presidential executive orders, the operational framework could change or be jeopardized under a different administration.

Environmental Justice Strategic Plan Timeline

DateAdministrative Action
April 21, 2023Signing of Executive Order 14098.
Nov. 3, 2023CEQ releases “Strategic Planning to Advance Environmental Justice” guidelines and template for agency EJSPs.
April 21, 2023 – Oct. 20, 2024Public input and feedback; agency EJSP development.
Oct. 21, 2024Deadline for agencies to submit final plans to CEQ.
Oct. 21, 2025CEQ submits report to the President on the implementation of EO 14098 and includes all agency EJSPs.
Oct. 21, 2026Agencies submit an assessment that evaluates the effectiveness of the EJSP.
Oct. 28, 2028Agencies submit an updated EJSP.

Evaluating the Efficacy of New Environmental Justice Strategic Plans

Since the signing of Executive Order 12898 in 1994, federal agencies have been mandated to develop and publish agency-wide environmental justice strategies and report on their implementation progress. Despite this requirement, most agency plans from previous years were not available online and consisted of sporadic updates rather than a complete, consecutive series of updates over the years. Progress reports were also mostly missing from agency websites.

Now, 30 years later, CEQ has provided comprehensive guidance for the development of the 2024 EJSPs, Biden established a framework for prioritizing environmental justice, and environmental justice leaders are engaged through WHEJAC. Given this momentum, there is hope that this iteration of EJSPs can serve as robust mechanisms for addressing longstanding inequities, advancing procedural fairness and equitable distribution of benefits through inclusive policymaking and targeted resource allocation in agency activities.

The strategic organization and implementation of these plans represent critical investments in federal agencies' operations. Therefore, immediate establishment of monitoring processes of these plans’ implementation by CEQ, coupled with required updates to the public on agency actions, is essential.

Additionally, a comprehensive and comparative evaluation of the 2024 EJSPs could reveal how well environmental justice principles are integrated into agency operations across the federal landscape. This assessment may reveal gaps or redundancies in agency coordination on environmental justice strategies to be addressed quickly and demonstrate the potential of the new strategic approach to address environmental injustices and systemic barriers for underserved communities.

This proactive approach will enhance transparency, facilitate timely improvements of any shortcomings in plans, and foster significant strides in advancing environmental justice.