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Biden-Harris Administration Establishes HHS Office of Environmental Justice

 Groundbreaking office advances President Biden’s commitment to protect the health of communities on the frontlines of pollution

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is establishing an Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) to better protect the health of disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations on the frontlines of pollution and other environmental health issues. The new office will sit within the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity at HHS, which President Biden created as part of his Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad to ensure the Biden-Harris Administration strengthens and safeguards the health and well-being of the American people as it confronts climate change.

Since taking office, President Biden has set the most ambitious environmental justice agenda in history. By securing historic and long overdue investments, implementing the Justice40 commitment to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments to disadvantaged communities, and creating new offices like OEJ, the Biden-Harris Administration is working to ensure that all federal agencies address the disproportionately high and adverse health, environmental, economic, climate, and other impacts on communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.

“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,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. ”Meeting the needs of these communities requires our focused attention. That’s why HHS is establishing the Office of Environmental Justice.”

“Health is closely connected to the environments where people spend the most time – neighborhoods, workplaces and outdoor spaces,” said Admiral Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary for Health. “Millions in the U.S. are at risk of poor health because they live, work, play, learn and grow in or near areas of excessive pollution and other environmental hazards. The Office of Environmental Justice is an important avenue through which their well-being and quality of life are receiving our full attention.”

“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,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “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.”

As the HHS-wide hub for environmental justice policy, programming, and analysis, the Office of Environmental Justice is tasked with:

  • 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’ 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 OEJ is seeking public comment on a draft outline to further the development of the 2022 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan. The plan will identify priority actions and strategies to best address environmental injustices and health inequities for people of color and disadvantaged, vulnerable, low-income, marginalized, and indigenous populations. Please visit the Federal Register Announcement to read more and provide input by June 18, 2022.

Learn more about the Office of Environmental Justice.

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Content created by Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH)
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