The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to create an Office of Environmental Justice and Climate Health.
“Low-income communities and communities of color across the county have borne the brunt of toxic pollution and the negative effects of local industries for decades,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “That is true whether you’re talking about the diesel death zone around our ports, and the 110 and the 710 freeways, the neighborhoods near Exide still dealing with lead contamination. Or the low-income communities with oil and gas drills in their backyards.
“These are all issues that the county and particularly the Department of Public Health has taken on in one way or another, but it’s time to get proactive. And that is why the motion Supervisor (Hilda) Solis and I have brought forward today, I believe is so important,” Hahn added.
The new agency will be tasked with becoming the hub of the county’s environmental justice and climate health policies and a center for data collected related to those policies and goals. The motion approved by the board calls for the county to appoint an interim director within 30 days. That director will implement a strategic plan drawn up by the Department of Public Health and a road map for the creation of the department. The strategic planning process will take up to nine months to implement, Hahn said.
Hahn said she hopes the new department will not just take action once environmental hazards happen, but take proactive action to prevent hazards and other environmental justice issues from occurring, by taking in data and input from communities, and using that data to hold regulators and industries accountable.
Solis added that she hopes the department can work closely with both state and federal regulators to tackle environmental justice issues. Supervisor Holly Mitchell said she hopes the department will aggressively seek federal and state grants, including a piece of the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control’s $500 million Cleanup in Vulnerable Communities Initiative.
Employees from the DPH will initially staff the new department. The director of the DPH will also work with the county to come up with a budget and source of funding for the new agency.
Hahn added that the department will also take a proactive approach to addressing heat-related and climate change-related issues, noting that heat waves continue to increase in frequency and duration, especially impacting working-class neighborhoods without parks and other non-asphalt areas.