White House Office of Science & Technology Policy’s (OSTP) National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Releases Environmental Justice Position Statement to Guide Activities and Investments in Ocean Science and Technology

By: Amanda N. Netburn, Assistant Director for Ocean Science and Technology; Gretchen Goldman, Assistant Director for Environmental Science, Policy, Engineering, and Justice; Kei Koizumi, Principal Deputy Director for Policy; and Jane Lubchenco, Deputy Director for Climate and the Environment

The right of all communities to benefit from clean air, clean water, and healthy surroundings does not end at land’s edge. Marginalized populations – especially in coastal and marine contexts – know this all too well. In fact, they often experience the impact of environmental harms disproportionally. For example, harmful algal blooms can pollute the air, drinking and swimming water, and seafood with dangerous toxins which all impact the health and economy of some vulnerable coastal communities. Sea level rise is increasing the frequency and extent of extreme flooding, destroying lives and properties in low-lying coastal areas.

Despite efforts to address the issues, barriers remain for many environmental justice communities to access data and participate meaningfully in the creation and use of information about the coasts and seas. Many past policies and actions taken by the U.S. government have perpetuated such inequities. Federal agencies have a responsibility to address all of these challenges and  The Biden-Harris Administration is working around the clock to improve the situation for marginalized communities around the Nation.

We are pleased to share that the lead interagency body for federal coordination on ocean science and technology, under the auspices of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is now committed to advancing environmental justice across federal ocean science and technology activities and investments. This group recently released an Environmental Justice Position Statement that specifies immediate opportunities for action and investment to meet environmental justice goals across Federal agencies. This Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology developed this statement in consultation with environmental justice experts, following an environmental justice training webinar and workshop for Federal ocean science and technology staff.

In the statement, the Subcommittee acknowledges that just processes and just allocation of resources and risks strengthen the ocean science and technology enterprise and that interagency coordination on environmental justice should be driven by the needs of impacted communities as feasible. The Subcommittee will prioritize environmental justice by:

  • Facilitating trainings and providing educational opportunities to expand members’ understanding of environmental justice
  • Coordinating the integration of environmental justice into interagency working group plans
  • Developing a “living” document of ocean science and technology activities related to environmental justice, to be accessible online for reference by all members
  • Sharing information on environmental justice best practices across Federal groups
  • Engaging environmental justice points of contact within each member agency and fostering intra-agency environmental justice conversations related to ocean science and technology discussions and activities
  • Regularly evaluating implementation of just practices within the structure and function of the body itself, including reevaluation of this environmental justice statement
  • Maintaining strong relationships with agency representatives and other ocean science and technology practitioners (e.g., academia, industry, civil society, etc.) to better understand the context of environmental justice beyond the Federal government

This statement is only a first step for the government to address environmental justice in coastal and marine environments, and the Subcommittee commits to continually evolving its goals and approaches to achieve equitable outcomes. The group’s commitment to environmental justice complements its commitments to building a diverse and inclusive workforce, as outlined in the recent Subcommittee’s Opportunities and Actions for Ocean Science and Technology (2022-2028). A roundtable will be held in July on related topics as an opportunity for non-Federal stakeholders to share their work on climate change and oceans, resilient ocean science and technology infrastructure, and a diverse and inclusive blue workforce, all of which include connections to racial justice and equity. For more information and to submit an idea, see here.


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