May 31, 2022 - Energy & Environment

HHS announces new environmental justice office

Photo of Xavier Becerra speaking
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before a House panel on April 27 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is establishing an Office of Environmental Justice to address environmental health issues among "disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations on the frontlines of pollution" and other climate impacts, the Biden administration announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Environmental justice has been a priority for the administration. The move to address climate and now environmental justice at HHS shows how the topic is moving beyond the traditional environmental and resource agencies.

Details: The new HHS office will form and implement a department-wide strategy on environmental justice and health and lead initiatives that integrate environmental justice into the agency's mission to improve health outcomes for high-risk communities.

What they're saying: "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," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

  • "Meeting the needs of these communities requires our focused attention."

The big picture: A September poll found that people of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water.

  • They're also less likely to have enough trees or green space in their communities and remain more likely to face noise pollution and litter.
  • People of color, especially Black Americans, are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards — and more likely to die of environmental causes.
  • As a result, the increasing number of extreme weather incidents has spurred calls for better public health mapping to identify and assist people who are the most at-risk from environmental disasters.

Go deeper: Race and the environment in America

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