Advancing an Inclusive and Just U.S. Climate Resilience Strategy

A Dialogue between White House Climate Leadership and U.S. Community Leaders

Thursday, October 28, 2021

2-3:30 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. PDT

President Joe Biden and Congress have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address environmental injustice, economic inequality, and climate change while preparing communities for the stresses and shocks of increasingly frequent, catastrophic extreme weather.

As Congress negotiates an investment package to support President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, this virtual event explores how the U.S. should move forward with a climate resilience strategy that places racial, economic, and environmental justice at its core and meets the scale of the challenge.

The event brings together leadership from the Biden-Harris administration and leaders from across the resilience, environmental justice, and climate policy communities to address the administration’s whole-of-government approach to driving forward equitable resilience through agency-level actions, investments, planning, and prioritization.


  • Brenda Mallory: Chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality
  • David J. Hayes: Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy; White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy
  • Candace Vahlsing: Associate Director for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Science; White House Office of Management and Budget
  • Mark Chambers: Senior Director for Building Emissions & Community Resilience; White House Council on Environmental Quality
  • Dr. Cecilia Martinez: Senior Director for Environmental Justice (EJ) at the White House Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ)
  • Xavier de Souza Briggs (moderator): Senior Fellow; The Brookings Institution
  • Dr. Beverly Wright: Executive Director; Deep South Center for Environmental Justice
  • Yoca Arditi-Rocha: Executive Director; The CLEO Institute
Biden-Harris Administration Actions on Climate Resilience download

Biden-Harris Administration Actions on Climate Resilience

Created by the Resilience Roadmap Project, this document summarizes actions taken so far by the Biden-Harris Administration on climate resilience. Updated December 2021.

The urgent need to strengthen the nation’s resilience to climate change could not be clearer. Extreme and sometimes deadly weather events plagued communities across the country over the summer—from megadrought and wildfires in the West to floods in the East and South to widespread extreme heat. Throughout, these communities continued to experience stresses from a global pandemic and ongoing social, economic, and racial inequity.

Speakers take stock of progress to date and identify opportunities to implement President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and the Justice40 Initiative, which aims to deliver 40 percent of federal infrastructure and climate investment benefits to disadvantaged communities. Speakers also discuss and identify investments and strategies to support local communities, including those historically left behind, to adapt to and prepare for worsening climate impacts.

The virtual event was hosted by Duke University, the Resilience Roadmap, Resilience21, The CLEO Institute, and the Center for American Progress.

About the Speakers

  • Brenda Mallory is the 12th Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the first African American to serve in this position. As Chair, she advises the President on environmental and natural resources policies that improve, preserve, and protect public health and the environment for America’s communities. She is focused particularly on addressing the environmental justice and climate change challenges the nation faces while advancing opportunities for job growth and economic development. Chair Mallory has decades of experience in both the private and public sector, including spending nearly 20 years at the Environmental Protection Agency and CEQ, serving in a number of senior roles. In Chair Mallory’s first stint at CEQ as the General Counsel, she helped shape many of President Obama’s signature environmental and natural resource policy successes. Now having returned to CEQ, Chair Mallory is looking to reinvigorate CEQ’s important environmental policy role to advance President Biden’s ambitious climate and environmental justice agenda. Chair Mallory was the first in her family to attend college, graduating from Yale College with a double major in history and sociology and then from Columbia Law School.
  • David J. Hayes is a Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy. He is a senior member of National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy’s White House team, which is advancing the Biden administration’s climate, conservation, and clean energy priorities. Immediately prior to joining the White House, Hayes was Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law, where he worked with state attorneys general on climate, environmental and clean energy initiatives. He previously served as Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at the U.S. Department of the Interior for Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. He was a climate policy advisor for the Biden-Harris Transition in 2020, and led the energy and environmental agency review teams for the Obama-Biden Transition in 2008. Hayes is a former Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the Stanford Law School; a former Fellow at Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy and Woods Institute for the Environment; and the former Chairman of the Board of the Environmental Law Institute. Hayes is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Stanford Law School.
  • Candace Vahlsing is the Associate Director for Climate, Energy, Environment, and Science at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Before coming to OMB, Candace Vahlsing led climate, energy, environment, and natural resources policy for the Domestic and Economic Policy team on the Biden-Harris Transition. In the Obama-Biden administration, she served as a Senior Policy Advisor for Energy and Climate Change at the Domestic Policy Council, supported the National Security Council on climate matters, and earlier worked at the Council on Environmental Quality. In the 115th and 116th Congress, Candace was a Senior Advisor to U.S. Senator Michael F. Bennet and the Minority Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Finance Subcommittee for Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure. Most recently, Candace was a Senior Advisor for Science and Technology Policy to the Chair of the California Air Resources Board, the agency charged with leading California’s climate policy.
  • Mark Chambers is the Senior Director for Building Emissions and Community Resilience at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Chambers leads the Biden-Harris administration’s climate policy development for the built environment sector as part of a whole of government approach to the climate crisis. Chambers previously served as the Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, where he led efforts to align social and environmental policy across the built environment, waste, transportation, health and energy sectors in America’s largest city. Prior to that role, he served as Director of Sustainability and Energy for the Government of the District of Columbia. Chambers is a recipient of the Director's Award from the Smithsonian National Design Awards. He speaks frequently on the intersection of climate change, resilient design and environmental justice; Chambers has been featured at forums like Creative Mornings, Living Future, Better Buildings, and Climate Week. His work has been highlighted in the NY Times, the Washington Post, Grist, Architectural Record, Politico, Complex World, and Reuters among others. Chambers is a licensed architect and holds a BArch and a MS in Public Policy and Management, both from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Dr. Cecilia Martinez is the Senior Director for Environmental Justice (EJ) at the White House Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ). In this role, she facilitates the coordination of the whole-of-government EJ agenda of the Biden administration. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, an organization that she co-founded to ensure that communities and policy-makers have the tools and information they need to create a just, sustainable energy and environmental policy. Dr. Martinez also previously held positions as Associate Research Professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment at the University of Delaware. She has led a variety of projects to address sustainable development at the local, state and federal level. Her work focuses on the development of energy and environmental strategies that promote equitable and sustainable policies. She received her B.S. from Stanford University, and MPA from New Mexico State University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Delaware’s College of Urban Affairs and Public Policy.
  • Xavier (Xav) de Souza Briggs (moderator) is a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and a visiting fellow at the SNF Agora Institute on democracy at Johns Hopkins University. Xav is an expert on economic opportunity and inclusive growth, racial equity and pluralism, housing, urban and regional development, and democratic governance in the U.S. and abroad. Prior to joining Brookings, he served for six years as vice president of the Ford Foundation, overseeing the its inclusive economies and markets work globally along with its regional program teams based in China, India, and Indonesia. Previously, Xav was professor of sociology and urban planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as head of MIT’s Housing, Community, and Economic Development Group. From January 2009 to August 2011, he was appointed by President Obama and served as associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Xav holds an engineering degree from Stanford University, an MPA from Harvard, and a PhD in sociology and education from Columbia University. He also studied as a Rotary Scholar in Brazil.
  • Dr. Beverly L. Wright is an environmental justice scholar and advocate, author, civic leader and professor of Sociology, is the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. She has conducted groundbreaking and significant research in the area of environmental justice and developed a curriculum for use at the elementary school level as well as Worker Health and Safety Training Programs for young men and women living near Superfund and Brownfield sites. Currently, Dr. Wright is serving as a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council under the Biden-Harris administration. She is also serving as the Chair of the Justice 40 Initiative.
  • Yoca Arditi-Rocha is a proud Latina and an international Sustainability Professional with over 20 years of experience. A biologist with a degree in Corporate Sustainability from the Institute of Global Sustainability at the University of Vermont and a Master's degree in Liberal Arts from Harvard University in Sustainability. She is the Executive Director of The CLEO Institute in Florida who works with policymakers and different stakeholders to build climate resilience and mobilize climate action for a just, safe, and healthy environment for all. She currently sits on the leadership council of Resilience 21 and onThe Resilience Roadmap’s Steering Committee. Before joining CLEO, she was the founder and executive director of No Planeta B, a consultancy with an advocacy core, which specialized in carbon footprint inventories, climate action planning, sustainable events, climate literacy and corporate sustainability capacity training in South Florida & Latin America.

About the Organizers

Duke University is providing financial support for this event as part of its commitment to advancing climate resilience for a just and sustainable world. This is an early venture of an ambitious new undertaking at Duke to strengthen the University’s already substantial contributions to addressing climate change and its impacts.

The Resilience Roadmap Project is a non-partisan effort guided by experts from diverse backgrounds and sectors to support US national resilience-building in urgent response to the climate crisis. The Resilience Roadmap Project, convened by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University and Susan Bell & Associates, has received support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, and Walton Family Foundation.

Resilience21 is a volunteer group of resilience practitioners in diverse communities from across the United States and Affiliated Nations, providing guidance and insight from their collective experience in the field, building and promoting resilience across the nation and around the world.

The CLEO Institute is a Florida-based nonprofit that educates and empowers communities to demand climate action, ensuring a safe, just, and healthy environment for all.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) is an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. CAP is a co-lead and co-author of the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform.