A USU Ecology Center speaker explores Biden's climate orders

Oct 22, 2021

Dr. Margaret Walls, economist and senior fellow at Resources for the Future.
Credit Resources for the Future

This week USU’s Ecology Center hosted Dr. Margaret Walls for their monthly seminar series. Walls is an economist and senior fellow at Resources for the Future, an environmental nonprofit focused on environmental policy solutions.

Walls’ Wednesday seminar discussed environmental justice and federal funding for conservation.

“The way we've prioritized conservation in the US, how we fund things, how we prioritize what we're going to do doesn't address environmental justice very well,” Walls said.

President Biden issued Executive Order 14008 in January 2021. The order, which focuses on climate solutions, presented the 30x30 initiative, a plan to conserve 30% of all lands and waters by 2030. A lofty goal, according to Walls.

“We've done some calculations that the US is at about 14% of protected lands in the highest categories of protection,” Walls said.

Walls also had concerns regarding how 30x30 addresses environmental justice.

“I don't think that the 30 to 30 objectives speaks to those problems effectively,” Walls said. “Urban areas that are more disadvantaged…have less green space, more impervious surface, less tree canopy, greater exposure to heat, poorer people are located in floodplains.”

Walls felt the Land and Water Conservation Fund may better address environmental justice issues. The fund disperses 900 million dollars a year to states, who then decide how to allocate it. Walls did point out that money for the fund comes directly from oil and gas leasing revenues.

Following the Executive Order, the Department of the Interior launched the “America the Beautiful” campaign this past summer. Within it is the Justice40 initiative, aimed at addressing environmental justice by allocating 40% of funding to underserved communities. Walls was hopeful, but felt it is still a work in progress.

“We've done some preliminary analysis of that program that suggests that still, a lot of the funds are flowing to more rural counties, which is sort of interesting, and more white counties,” Walls said. “I think it's the first place to look to try to encourage states to use those funds in ways that would be advantageous in communities that are lacking green space.”

Walls presented her second seminar today, focused on her research about wildfires and human health in the West.

To watch recordings of her talks, visit https://www.usu.edu/ecology/recorded-lectures.