HHS aims to protect communities on the ‘front lines of pollution’

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice within the Department of Health and Human Services, which will be tasked with addressing environmental, climate and pollution-related issues in some of the country’s most vulnerable communities. ‘America.


What do you want to know

  • The Biden administration on Tuesday announced the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice within the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • The office will be responsible for addressing environmental, climate and pollution-related issues in some of America’s most vulnerable communities.
  • The new Office of Environmental Justice will have an open comment period on how best to implement its strategies until June 18

The new office is part of the administration’s comprehensive Justice40 initiative, a federal commitment that 40% of all proceeds from climate investments will go to disenfranchised communities.

“The truth is that many communities across our country – especially low-income communities and communities of color – continue to bear the brunt of pollution from industrial development, poor land use decisions, transportation and trade corridors,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote. in a report. “Meeting the needs of these communities requires our full attention. That’s why HHS is creating the Office of Environmental Justice.

The office will have five primary guidelines, according to an HHS announcement:

  • Integrate environmental justice initiatives throughout HHS to better serve disadvantaged populations across the country

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive approach to environmental justice

  • Coordinate and produce the agency’s annual environmental justice reports

  • Work with the Office of Civil Rights within HHS to best comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • Increase the overall environmental justice workforce by providing more training opportunities

President Biden made the initial Justice40 pledge in a far-reaching executive order on his first day in office. The initiative was singled out as an unprecedented push to bring environmental justice to communities long plagued by pollution and climate inaction.

Marginalized communities have long borne the brunt of environmental hardship in the United States, for a host of reasons. A 2018 Environmental Protection Agency study, which looked at particles found in various residential areas across the country, found that people of color had a total emission particle load 28% higher than the total population, while black Americans had a 54% higher burden than the general population.

Non-white Americans, especially black Americans, are more likely to live in areas with high pollution and dangerous emissions, in part due to systemic racism and disproportionate investment in developments.

St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana, for example, which is a majority black community (58%), has become known as “Cancer Alley” due to the high risk of cancer from pollutants from the nearby factory. from Denka, according to the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment.

The Biden administration has released funds for a number of environmental justice initiatives since taking office, including allocations to improve water infrastructure, to clean up polluted areas along the Great Lakes, to combat the so-called “eternal chemicals” and more.

Still, key members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council said in April that the administration needed to do more to make the results happen.

There has been little change on the ground since Justice40’s engagement, as the federal government tries to determine which communities are most in need of investment. In recommendations to the Biden administration, many prominent environmental justice advocates have pushed for a methodical and intentional process for identifying disadvantaged communities and disbursing funds.

The new Office of Environmental Justice is seeking public comment on its draft plan to implement its strategies through June 18, with the goal of “identifying priority actions and strategies to better address environmental injustices and health inequalities for people of color and disadvantaged, vulnerable, low-income, marginalized and Indigenous populations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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