President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday a new Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) to preserve “communities of color” from zoning restrictions and pollution, among other objectives.
The OEJ will report to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and will sit within the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity at HHS, according to Xavier Becerra, secretary of HHS. Biden created the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in 2021 to stop the warming of the globe.
“The blunt truth is that many communities across our nation – particularly 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,” Becerra said in a press release. ”Meeting the needs of these communities requires our focused attention. That’s why HHS is establishing the Office of Environmental Justice.”
White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory described the agency’s responsibilities as “prioritizing environmental justice.” She also said that not all communities in the United States have clean air and clean water.
“By creating this new office and prioritizing environmental justice at HHS, Secretary Becerra is undertaking the type of bold institutional reform that is desperately needed to deliver clean air and clean water for all communities,” Mallory said. “Today’s 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.”
Specifically, the agency’s announcement said Biden’s OEJ will be responsible for the following:
- Leading initiatives that integrate environmental justice into the HHS mission to improve health in disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations across the nation.
- Developing and implementing an HHS-wide strategy on environmental justice and health.
- Coordinating annual HHS environmental justice reports.
- Providing HHS’s Office of Civil Rights with environmental justice expertise to support compliance under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Promoting training opportunities to build an environmental justice workforce.
The announcement comes after Biden has been under pressure from climate activists for not taking enough action on global warming. The pressure came to a head when the White House could not get Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on board to pass a Green New Deal-like House proposal in the Senate. The legislation stalled because Manchin was worried that more costly spending would further fuel Biden’s already 40-year-high inflation. The proposed package would have cost the American taxpayer more than 2.1 trillion dollars.
“It should not surprise anyone that Senator Joe Manchin went on Fox News to kill the Build Back Better Act — he’s been promising to do it for months, and some folks did not want to believe him,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said. “The Build Back Better legislation provides meaningful change by expanding health care, making child care more affordable, fighting climate change, delivering clean water and so much more.”