Addressing environmental justice (EJ) concerns highlighted during the campaign is an important priority for the Biden Administration. Within a week of taking the oath of office, President Biden issued a sweeping executive order with a number of EJ initiatives, including creation of a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council consisting of the heads of each Cabinet-level and independent federal agency. The order also directed federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of their missions” through development of programs and policies aimed at addressing disproportionately high adverse environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities.
On the heels of Biden’s executive order, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick announced on February 11, 2021 plans to create a senior position at FERC to coordinate incorporation of EJ and equity concerns into the Commission’s decision-making process. While Glick did not announce any details about the position, he emphasized that the position “is not just a title,” and that the person who fills the role will be working with experts across all FERC program offices to ensure that EJ and equity concerns “finally get the attention they deserve.”
With respect to hydro licensing, an increased focus on EJ from FERC means the role of Native American tribes and their role in the licensing process, as well as the scope of the tribes’ authority, will likely receive greater attention. Additionally, the Biden Administration has been focused on accelerating permitting for and protecting and expanding existing renewable energy projects. FERC will likely need to grapple with the tension between meaningfully addressing EJ, which could mean lengthier and more detailed public participation processes and greater scrutiny of project location and impacts, and promoting renewable energy.