U.S. launches Office of Environmental Justice

The new body aims to improve health in communities bearing the brunt of industrial development and other major pollution sources. 

In January 2021, an executive order was issued by U.S. President Joe Biden; EO 14008 – Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. An early sign of a White House administration looking to reverse successive years of environmental negligence on the part of the predecessor, Donald J. Trump, between then and now a number of significant moves in the green direction have happened, not least rejoining the Paris Climate Accords. 

construction site view

Now a major new development has been announced, with the creation of a body that will sit within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For the first time in the country’s history, an Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) will be established, with the stated purpose of undertaking actions to directly improve the wellbeing of underserved communities, including low income communities and communities of color, who ‘continue to bear the brunt of pollution from industrial development, agricultural practices, cumulative impacts of land use decisions, transportation and trade corridors’. 

“[The] announcement is a key step toward confronting environmental injustice – in all of its heartbreaking forms – with the full force and commitment of the Federal government,’ White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair, Brenda Mallory, said in a statement.

‘This is a momentous occasion for folks that have been fighting for justice for the last 40 years to finally have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have an Office of Environmental Justice,” added Sacoby Wilson, PhD, director of the Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health; professor with the University of Maryland-College Park, and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Justice. ‘We need to make sure that health is at the forefront of all environmental and climate justice policies. With the new OEJ, there will be more resources, more research, and more input to address these conditions.’

Last year, researchers from Lancaster University, the University of British Columbia and Duke University called for environmental justice to be prioritised in a bid to help address the biodiversity crisis. In April, Environment Journal published an in-depth feature looking at the rise of climate litigation cases, and how the crisis is changing contract and insurance law.

Image credit: Deborath Ramos L


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