Jaimie Huynh: Environmental PoliSea

Author: Jaimie Huynh
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2017
Host Agency: California State Lands Commission

This isn’t going to be about ocean policy – it’s going to be about environmental justice policy.

“Environmental Justice” means the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. California was one of the first states in the nation to codify environmental justice in statute. The California State Lands Commission is updating the environmental justice policy, which was adopted in 2002. Quite outdated. The Commission manages over 120 rivers and sloughs, 40 lakes, the tidelands and submerged lands along the entire coast of California, and desert and other inland parcels granted to the State. The jurisdiction ranges all throughout California, so touching on all topics of environmental justice is a difficult task.

So here’s what I learned so far: climate change affects everyone, BUT it disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities more than others. These communities consist of people of color, low-income households, and many who do not have higher education opportunities. Many industrial, hazardous waste, and solid waste sites tend to be built in EJ communities, further impacting them.

In order to understand the needs of vulnerable coastal and inland communities, we have been traveling throughout the state. I quickly learned how important it is to listen to people on the ground level to understand their concerns and how we can better help them in their efforts.

Luckily, I still get to apply my ocean knowledge throughout this process. Shoreline protective structures, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification are a few of the climate change impacts that disproportionately affect EJ communities.

  • Hard shoreline protective structures restrict coastal access, increase the rate of erosion, and deplete natural sand supply to the beach. Coastal EJ communities can be impacted by affluent coastal communities who choose to erect these hard structures.
  • Sea-level rise will endanger coastal communities. Many EJ communities do not have the resources to adapt.
  • Ocean acidification affects people who rely on subsistence fishing to put food on the table.

The policy and implementation plan aren’t done yet, but I can already see the impact it can have and I’m so excited to see the results!

Written by Jaimie Huynh