Crain’s Detroit Business: HHS’ Draft Environmental Justice Strategy Targets Racial and Economic DisparitiesApril 14, 2022
Crain’s Detroit Business
April 11, 2022
The Health and Human Services Department’s Thursday release of a draft plan to tackle environmental health issues looks very similar to its environmental justice strategy outlined in 1995, but with an additional focus on climate change and communities most affected by extreme weather.
The department seeks public input on whether its outlined strategy adequately addresses key environmental concerns. Experts say HHS needs to focus on addressing the industry’s own carbon footprint and waste as well as occupational health hazards.
Here are five takeaways from the draft:
Scant details on funding
Funding has not been allocated for the initiative, and the size of the pot largely determines how effective it will be.
The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, climate-related health issues will cost $2 billion to $4 billion per year. Historically marginalized communities will bear the brunt of those health issues, as they have been with other environmental concerns such as access to clean water and toxic waste exposure.
HHS says it will establish community-based partnerships and work with local and state health departments to reduce disparities among federally funded social service programs. The department also plans to provide funding for cooling units and energy stipends in areas disproportionately affected by extreme weather events.
In 2021, funding for research to better understand the effect of climate change on health within the National Institute of Health and Center for Disease Control and Prevention increased $200 million year over year. The American Jobs Plan invested $1.5 billion in public health funding, some of which will go toward building resilience to climate change.
New focus on racial and economic disparities
A new component HHS’ environmental justice plan is its focus on racial and economic disparities and serving communities disproportionately affected by environmental health concerns.
HHS plans to increase linguistic capabilities and cultural competency within health care delivery and advance research on the factors that contribute to racial health disparities, specifically among Black and Indigenous people.
“They’re spending a lot of resources targeting structural racism and determinants of health and environmental exposures,” University of Arizona professor of public health Paloma Beamer said. “That’s been pretty exciting.”
Reducing industry emissions and environmental impacts
While the plan focuses mainly on responding to environmental inequities, there is opportunity to focus on reducing the health care industry’s own environmental footprint, Beamer said.
It is estimated the U.S. health care sector is responsible for 8.5% of national carbon emissions. On a global scale, the U.S. accounts for 25% of all global health sector emissions, according to researchers from the National Academy of Medicine.