The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on May 31 launched a new Office of Environmental Justice, the latest in a series of Biden administration policies and bureaucratic entities centered on environmental justice, environmental racism, equity, and related concerns.
“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,” Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health, stated in a press release announcing the new office.
Xavier Becerra, HHS secretary, stated in the same press release, “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.”
The new office will fall under the authority of HHS’s Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, which was also established by the Biden administration through Executive Order 14008.
The order includes the term “environmental justice” 24 times, which is foundational to the new governmental bodies and programs it details.
Notably, it established several other bodies, including the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, which it tasked with consulting “local environmental justice leaders” to develop an environmental justice strategy; the Office of Environmental Justice, under the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which already has an Office of Environmental Justice.
The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice grew out of the Office of Environmental Equity, which was established in 1992 under the George H.W. Bush administration against the backdrop of civil rights activism, prompted by the 1987 report “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.”