The Biden administration established a Department of Health and Human Services office Tuesday to address environmental health issues facing underserved communities.
The Office of Environmental Justice will be situated under the HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, which was established in August 2021. The new office will serve as a center for "policy, programming and analysis" and will focus on developing environmental justice initiatives, environmental justice reports and an environmental justice workforce, according to a news 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," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the news release.
The office was established in response to President Joe Biden's January 2021 executive order, "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad." It is staffed by three people working there temporarily until Biden's request to fund the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity and provide a permanent workforce is approved, said Kimberly Seigfreid, a spokesperson for the assistant secretary of health.
"The FY23 President's Budget requests $3 million for the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. Out of this amount, no funding is currently planned for the Office of Environmental Justice, which will rely on detailees until funding is provided," she wrote in an email.
Efforts to secure funding for the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity have fallen flat. Biden has sought funding for the office since its inception, E&E news reported. Addressing concerns at an August 2021 news conference that it would be underfunded and understaffed, Becarra said the office would grow in the future fiscal years, dubbing it "the little engine that could."
"One way or the other, we're going to find the resources to make this work happen, because it's too indispensable to not to," he said.