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On June 8, 2023, the Ocean Policy Committee (composed of members from the Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Science and Technology Policy) published a Request for Information, seeking input on developing an “Ocean Justice Strategy.” This strategy will focus on environmental justice (“EJ”) concerns for communities residing near the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes, and it may impact how federal agencies evaluate actions that occur in those areas.

As explained in the Federal Register notice, the Ocean Justice Strategy will:

  1. assess how the Federal Government should define ocean justice;
  2. describe barriers to and opportunities for ocean justice;
  3. describe how ocean justice should apply to the scientific enterprise of knowledge building, including the appropriate consideration, inclusion, and application of Indigenous Knowledge;
  4. describe how ocean justice should apply to access to and management of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes; and
  5. describe how ocean justice will be implemented by the Federal Government to build on and expand the work of Tribal, Territorial, State, and local governments, Indigenous communities, the private sector, and the public.

This strategy is in its infancy, and the Request for Information provides an opportunity for voluntary comments on how to define ocean justice; what barriers and opportunities are associated with ocean justice; what research and knowledge gaps exist; what new tools are needed for ocean justice and whether the government can harness existing tools such as EJScreen for ocean justice; and what partnerships would help advance ocean justice. Comments are due by July 24, 2023.

This action builds on the Biden Administration’s continued EJ efforts. The recent Executive Order 14096, “Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All,” signed April 21, 2023, defined EJ to broadly mean “the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, Tribal affiliation, or disability, in agency decision-making and other Federal activities that affect human health and the environment….” It also directed the Council on Environmental Quality to issue new guidance on how agencies should implement the expanded definition of EJ and updated agency directives contained in the order, including evaluating updated EJ considerations during NEPA review of federal actions.

Similarly, the proposed Ocean Justice Strategy, once developed, will likely impact how federal agencies evaluate ocean justice considerations in federal offshore and coastal activities, including the issuance of federal permits.

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