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Biden Administration Seeks Public Comment on Expanding Environmental Justice Initiatives to Ocean-Related Activities

Robertson  Daniel

 

By:  Daniel L. Robertson, Associate Attorney

 

On June 8, 2023, the Council on Environmental Quality, on behalf of the Ocean Policy Committee (OPC), published a Federal Register request for information seeking public input on the development of a new “Ocean Justice Strategy.”

The OPC is a Congressionally mandated interagency body tasked with coordinating ocean science, technology and management policy across Federal agencies in order to maximize Ocean2 the effectiveness of Federal investments in ocean research and ocean resource management. Codified by the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, the Committee falls within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is led by the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. The OPC currently consists of at least 25 members, including the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In Thursday’s announcement, the Council states that the new ocean justice strategy will “aim to identify barriers and opportunities to fully integrate environmental justice principles into ocean-related activities of the Federal Government.” The strategy will further “propose equitable and just practices to advance safety, health, and prosperity” for communities near oceans and the Great Lakes. Through its request, the OPC is seeking public input “on what the vision and goals of the Ocean Justice Strategy should be and how the Federal Government can advance just and equitable access to, and management and use of, the ocean, the coasts, and the Great Lakes.” The notice provides examples of environmental justice concerns including inequitable placement of polluting infrastructure such as ports and landfills, and inadequate responses to natural hazards like storms and typhoons.

In addition to a general request for any considerations in developing the strategy, the OPC is specifically seeking public input on the following areas:

  • How ocean justice is defined;
  • Barriers and key challenges to realizing ocean justice;
  • What elements, activities and components the strategy should include, including injustices that the federal government should better address;
  • Research and knowledge gaps the federal government should address;
  • How the federal government can harness existing tools (such as the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and EJScreen) to address ocean justice, and what new tools or practices are necessary; and
  • Where and how can the federal government partner with external stakeholders, and what solutions should be led by non-federal entities.

The strategy will further expand the federal government’s advancement of environmental justice initiatives, and follows President Biden’s recent executive order clarifying the administration’s “whole of government” approach to addressing environmental justice, which we previously discussed here. The notice also gives indication as to areas that the OPC may be looking to address, stating that communities have not shared an equitable benefit and burden in ocean-related activities including “climate change, sea level rise and coastal flooding, increased storm intensity, pollution, overfishing, loss of habitat biodiversity, and other threats.”

Public comments are due on or before July 24, 2023, and can be submitted through the federal rulemaking portal located here by referencing docket number CEQ-2023-004. We will continue to monitor environmental justice developments on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer.