Energy & Environment

HHS launches new climate health office

Xavier Becerra
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Monday launched a new office aimed at addressing the health impacts and disparities caused by climate change.

Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, who is expected to help oversee the initiative, told reporters on Monday that the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity will have three main jobs: building resilience to climate health impacts; partnering with hospitals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and build resiliency; and combining climate resilience with health equity.

An executive order in January laid out the foundation of the new office.

Climate resilience, a major area of climate policy, focuses on physically preparing for the impacts of climate-linked extreme weather, including by changing the way structures are built.

Levine said on Monday that the health sector is responsible for 8.5 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. and 4.5 percent of global carbon emissions.

A press release from the department laid out additional duties for the office, such as identifying communities with disproportionate exposure to climate hazards and assisting with regulatory efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

It will also promote research on health benefits of climate actions and explore opportunities to partner with charities and the private sector to address disparities.

Administration officials described the office as “small,” but said it will grow as it develops authorities.

Asked if the office would cut Medicare payments to hospitals that don’t reduce their carbon emissions, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra didn’t directly answer but said, “We’re going to try to use every tool at our disposal.”

Becerra highlighted his previous work as California’s attorney general, saying his office reached out to local governments proposing development projects to talk about environmental requirements, instead of waiting to file lawsuits for any alleged violations.

“We’ll do the same thing here with this office,” he said. “We’ll reach out. We’re going to make sure we reach out to every sector … and we’re going to explain to them what the law requires and what our authorities permit and where the president would like this to go.”

The establishment of the new office comes amid mounting evidence that links climate change to health outcomes including heat-related illnesses and deaths.

Tags Climate change Department of Health and Human Services Health care HHS hospitals Office of Climate Change and Health Equity Rachel Levine Xavier Becerra
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