The U.S. Department of Justice is stepping up for environmental justice efforts. Attorney General Merrick Garland just announced a new office of the department that will exclusively focus on the human impacts of pollution and climate changed-fueled disasters.
“The Justice Department has three essential responsibilities: upholding the rule of law, keeping our country safe, and protecting civil rights,” Garland said this week. “Seeking and securing justice for communities that are disproportionately burdened by environmental harms is a task demanded by all three of those responsibilities.”
This new Office of Environmental Justice is part of the Biden administration’s strategy to prioritize addressing the climate crisis. It’s in line with the president’s promise of taking an “all of government” approach to improve environmental justice in the U.S.
The office will work with communities around the country, but Garland emphasized that it would focus on frontline areas where residents are much more likely to experience health and social disparities. “Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said in yesterday’s address.
There’s a mountain of disparity to tackle. Hispanic and Black communities throughout the country tend to be exposed to more pollution, even while being less responsible for emissions. A 2019 study found that Hispanics breathe in 60% more pollution than their communities create, and Black Americans are exposed to 50% more pollution than they create—meanwhile, white Americans are exposed to 17% less pollution than they produce, the Guardian reported.
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Lower-income communities are more likely to live near high polluting industries, which increases asthma and cancer rates for residents. They’re also more likely to be near floodplains. Those same communities experience disparities after natural disasters, too. A 2020 report about climate and racism found that communities of color saw their overall wealth decrease, while predominantly white communities did not experience wealth loss after a disaster.
To ensure that the office will be able to tackle working with so many communities in need around the U.S., the OEJ will work alongside other departments and agencies like the U.S. Attorney’s offices and the Civil Rights Division, CNN reported. The administration has also asked Congress for $1.4 million to fund the office’s efforts, NBC News reported.