The OJS was created with significant input from stakeholders, including consultations with territorial governments and Native Hawaiian organizations, a formal consultation process with Tribal nations, and a public comment period that garnered more than 16,000 comments. The release of the OJS was then met with broad support from the environmental community. The strategy builds upon previous actions to support racial and environmental justice, including multiple executive orders, the creation of the Justice40 and America the Beautiful initiatives, and the Ocean Climate Action Plan.
This column describes five ways that the OJS incorporates ocean justice into the federal government.
1. Federally defines ‘ocean justice’ and ‘ocean justice communities’
These are the first federal definitions of these terms and are based on Executive Order 14096’s definition of “environmental justice”; they further establish ocean justice as part of federal environmental justice efforts overall. Providing concrete definitions for the terms “ocean justice” and “ocean justice communities” reinforces the importance and legitimacy of these issues and the experiences of these communities. Defining the terms also makes it easier to include them in federal guidelines, metrics, and goals.
The definition of ocean justice is “the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, Tribal affiliation, or disability, in Federal Agency decision-making and other Federal activities related to the ocean.” Ocean justice communities are those “communities with environmental justice concerns that rely on the ocean and Great Lakes for economic, cultural, spiritual, and recreational purposes, and food security … not limited to communities adjacent to shorelines, but extend to all communities that have economic, cultural, historical, or spiritual ties to the ocean and are experiencing ocean-related environmental justice concerns.”
2. Facilitates improved ocean access and community engagement
The OJS directs agencies to participate in meaningful engagement with communities, specifically ocean justice communities, that are affected by agency actions related to the ocean. Community engagement leads to better results, and improvements based on the OJS could include: engaging with communities as early as possible; collaborating more with trusted local organizations in ocean justice communities; providing more time for public input; simplifying processes and providing support so that communities can obtain federal support; communicating in additional languages and formats; using additional methods for feedback; and increasing transparency about how feedback is used. This builds on the work of multiple executive orders and the Ocean Climate Action Plan.
The OJS also recommends supporting the improvement of educational ocean content in schools. On federal lands, the OJS recommends improving coastal access for people with disabilities, such as with ramps at beach entrances, and directs the White House Ocean Policy Committee—the author of the OJS—to collaborate with states and territories on coastal access, as well as work to improve coastal access on federal land.
3. Promotes a more inclusive use of information sources
The OJS directs agencies to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into ocean decision-making, data collection, and research, building on past efforts to include Indigenous knowledge in the federal government’s work. The OJS also recommends including ocean justice communities in federal decision-making, as well as that research efforts incorporate traditional, local, and historical knowledge. The White House recognizes that decision-making improves with additional evidence and understands that utilizing Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge benefits both nature and society.
4. Fosters a more inclusive workforce
The OJS includes multiple suggestions for how to make the federal workforce more inclusive. The country and the federal workforce overall may have comparable racial diversity, but that does not hold true for high-level positions, or for every agency, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which was 79 percent white in fiscal year 2021. The OJS suggests advertising ocean workforce positions in a more inclusive manner and strives to improve recruitment and retention of employees from disadvantaged groups, including ocean justice communities. The OJS also recommends considering hiring people to work near the ocean, such as in the U.S. territories, and paying junior staff—such as interns and those in entry-level positions—better. These efforts build upon Executive Order 14035.
5. Establishes a whole-of-government approach to ocean justice
The OJS directs the federal government to take ocean justice into account in agency actions. This historic step could lead to better communication of information, more meaningful community engagement, improved interagency coordination, more inclusive advisory group development and employment, more equitable coastal access, and increased access to funding for ocean justice communities. The OJS suggests that agencies create ocean justice guidelines and/or metrics; it also directs the White House Ocean Policy Committee to create sample metrics for agency use.