October 6, 2022

Putting Justice First in Ocean Policy

As we work to address climate and biodiversity crises, it is imperative that we put justice and equality at the center of our solutions, including the ocean. Blacks, indigenous peoples and people of color on the beaches have been disproportionately affected by rising sea levels, intensifying storms and the planet-killing oil and gas industry. Coastal communities struggle with pollution, industrial fishing, habitat loss and development that has long wiped neighborhoods and traditions off the map.

A new collaborative alliance called the Ocean Justice Forum is taking steps to understand and address these inequalities. Earthjustice is one of 18 environmental justice, community, Indigenous and national ocean conservation organizations that came together at the forum. Fair and Fair Ocean Policy Platform.

The platform defines oceanic justice communities – as a result of racism and colonialism – as communities that are systematically excluded from power, under-resourced, underserved, marginalized, and overburdened by the health and environmental impacts of industrialization and development. Many of these communities have been forced into “victim zones” – areas of intense industrial pollution – by decades of discriminatory housing policy and racially biased zoning decisions.

For example, the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico coast is littered with chemical plants. including roughly half of the country’s oil and gas refineries. Unjust government decisions have placed these polluting facilities in low-income areas. Union of Concerned Scientists, these burdens fall for the most colorful people: Latino and Black households are 60% and 75% more likely to own chemical plants in the immediate vicinity than the whole country, respectively.

While the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act has made historic investments in climate solutions and is critical to putting the United States on track to achieving climate goals, this victory has come at the expense of allowing more drilling and more pollution in historically marginalized communities. Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coasts.

The Ocean Justice Platform is the result of a concerted effort to make ocean policy fairer by listening to and raising the voices of the most affected communities. The platform identifies what is necessary to achieve ocean justice and sets clear priorities to guide policymakers’ approach to fair and equitable ocean policy. These priorities, created together in the last year, are:

  • Protect the ocean and its benefits for all
  • Relieving the disproportionate burdens placed on ocean justice communities by ocean pollution
  • Promoting an economy that feeds the ocean and its communities
  • Upgrade fair-sourced renewable energy from the ocean
  • Prioritize community social cohesion in disaster response and adaptation investments

The platform offers the environmental movement and policymakers a new path – a path of deep collaboration, partnership and trust. Now is the time to make climate policy more inclusive and equitable and to address the shortcomings of policies of the past that have left frontline communities behind. This platform sets out an ambitious and necessary vision to steer policy towards ocean justice. It can read the whole platform and sign here.


Earthjustice works with communities across the US to fight for ocean justice. Here are some of the stories of resilience and resilience our partners and customers have shared with Earthjustice staff over the years:

Tacoma, Washington

An LNG terminal is also at the center of a lawsuit on behalf of the Puyallup Tribe in Tacoma, Washington. The polluting Tacoma LNG treatment plant is located in Tacoma Tide Flats, the ancestral land of the Tribe. The Puyallup Tribe and the local community have opposed the plant for years, stating that the permitting agencies did not consult with the Tribe and that the fossil fuel company behind it misrepresented the polluting plant as clean energy and built it illegally without proper permits. .

Also to the northwest, along the US-Canada border, the Lummi, Tulalip, Swinomish, and Suquamish nations have been fishing the waters of the Salish Sea for generations. When the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project threatened to triple tanker traffic at the border between the northwestern United States and Canada, the Tribes resisted.

“I’ve been a commercial fisherman all my life. That’s all I’ve ever done,” said Lummi Nation member Dana Wilson. “My father was a fisherman; his father was a fisherman; and his father was a fisherman,” Wilson said. In our language it is called Schelangen – the way of life, the way of the water.”

“We’re losing so much that we’re losing, losing every generation. And what will we leave for future generations if we don’t start to manage and monitor where we are and where we’re going? You don’t know which end to run to.”

Hilton Kelley stands in front of the Valero refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.

Hilton Kelley stands in front of the Valero refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.

Eric Kayne for Earthjustice

Port Arthur, Texas

Hilton Kelley lives near a refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, a Black and Latino community that was severely affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“The restaurant my wife and I owned was flooded and severely damaged, and my father-in-law’s house was also damaged and flooded,” Kelley said. “While we were trying to help my family and neighbors stand up, we were also exposed to toxic and dangerous substances that had virtually no protection.”

A group of volunteers help install a rooftop solar system on a home in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

A group of volunteers help install a rooftop solar system on a home in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

Erika P. Rodriguez for Earthjustice

Porto Rico

A rising threat to coastal communities around the world is the increase in terminals that process and transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) – a dangerous fuel source that withstands fracturing and poses a serious explosion risk.

In Puerto Rico, US-based fossil fuel company New Fortress Energy began construction in 2019 a new liquefied natural gas import terminal with infrastructure and a pipeline to the nearby San Juan power plant. Although the potentially explosive terminal was less than a quarter mile from the nearest homes, no one in the surrounding communities was notified or consulted. It soon became clear that New Fortress Energy had not gone through the proper federal permit process to build a terminal.

After several community organizations wrote a letter demanding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) assume jurisdiction over this illegally constructed and operated terminal, FERC launched an investigation. Earthjustice represented several local organizations and worked with the local government agency’s own labor union to successfully persuade FERC to claim jurisdiction over the terminal and request that New Fortress apply for a late permit. After New Fortress appealed the decision to DC Circuit, Earthjustice held an amicus briefing on behalf of the same clients. The court upheld the decision and asked New Fortress to comply with the permit application process. Earthjustice will represent the same client coalition throughout the new permitting process and will demand a rigorous environmental impact statement and public safety review to hold New Fortress accountable for the public safety, environmental and climate threats presented by the gas terminal.

“We are at risk of stronger hurricanes for six months of the year as a result of climate change,” said Myrna Conty, a local Puerto Rican community leader with the Amigos del Río Guaynabo group. “Converting Puerto Rico’s energy system to run away from natural gas continues to fuel the burning of fossil fuels, exacerbate climate change and distracts us from applying renewable energy. There is sun almost 365 days in our country. The price of natural gas is increasing right now. Worse still, gas will drive up our electricity prices even more. We have the solution, and that is to install photovoltaic systems with batteries on the roofs. With a solar system, we would be a more resilient country.”

A whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, swims in the ocean off Hawaii.

A whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, swims in the ocean off Hawaii.

Hawaii and American Samoa

Worldwide, industrial-scale fishing fleets are plundering ocean resources, and regulators are not doing enough to rein in these destructive practices. Longline boats arrange hook-filled lines stretching up to 50 miles and grab anything that comes in their way. These industrial fleets can devastate the ocean ecosystems on which traditional communities depend for their way of life.

For example, in the waters off Hawaii and American Samoa, federal fisheries managers failed to protect the oceanic whitetip sharks, a declining species that is often unintentionally caught when fleets target other fish such as tuna and swordfish.

“We’re always on the water in Hawaii, and in our local tradition we see sharks as our sacred guardians,” said Mike Nakachi, a native Hawaiian cultural practitioner. “We know that large numbers of whitetip ocean sharks have been caught and killed, and it’s disturbing the entire marine ecosystem.”

A legal client of Earthjustice, Nakachi is among Native Hawaiians who have a special relationship with the shark (manō) as a family ‘aumakua – a dead ancestor who guards and warns against danger. Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners can honor their ‘aumakua’ by acting as shark guardians (kahu manō) and protecting these sacred animals from death. due to inhumane fishing practices

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service on behalf of Nakachi and the Hawai’i Conservation Council in May 2022. The lawsuit challenges the agency’s decision to allow large numbers of longline fishermen in the Western and Central Pacific to injure and kill ocean whitetips without ensuring that fishing impacts do not impair the survival of threatened species or prevent them from rising to healthy levels. The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Service to complete scientific studies that assess impacts on the species before allowing fishing that could harm these sharks.

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