Can the White House’s Justice40 Program Bridge the Racial Gap in Air Quality?

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Justice40 Program Overview

The White House’s Justice40 program aims to reduce inequalities by directing 40% of the benefits from certain federal environmental investments towards disadvantaged communities. However, the program purposely omitted race from the process of calculating who could benefit in order to ensure it could withstand legal challenges.

Racial Disparities in Air Quality

According to a recent study published in the journal Science, people of color in the U.S. breathe 14% more PM 2.5 pollution than the overall population. The study also found that despite improvements in air quality in broadly defined disadvantaged communities, pollution would remain significantly worse for people of color.

Limitations of Justice40

The new analysis suggests that the Justice40 program may not shrink racial disparities in air quality due to efforts to ensure it is race-neutral. By improving air quality in whiter communities faster than communities of color, the program may even widen the racial gap instead of bridging it.

The Importance of Considering Race

Critics argue that the omission of race in the primary screening tool is a major flaw. To effectively address racial disparities in air quality, race and ethnicity need to be considered, as they are the top indicators of air quality.

The Path Forward

To bridge the racial gap in air quality, the White House could refine the existing screening tool by considering a spectrum of pollution and identifying which communities are the most burdened. This approach would be more effective than dividing the population into two categories of “disadvantaged” and “not disadvantaged.”


The Justice40 program is a significant effort to address environmental inequalities, but it needs to be carefully implemented to achieve its goals. By taking a more refined approach and considering race in the screening process, the White House can work towards bridging the racial gap in air quality and improving the health of communities of color.

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