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Environmental Justice Analysis

Environmental justice (EJ) is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. [83] Recognizing that some populations experience higher levels of risk, Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” directs federal agencies to identify and address disproportionately high adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations that may result from their programs, policies, and activities. [84] The development of the environmental justice movement has precipitated a great deal of research on the racial and socioeconomic disparities in exposure to environmental health risks. [85-87] These studies, often referred to as EJ analyses, evaluate risks and may also attempt to address them using other sustainability tools, such as collaborative problem-solving, and  design charrettes, among others. [28]

How can Environmental Justice Analyses contribute to sustainability?

Many factors may contribute to disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental impacts, including social, psychosocial, economic, physical, chemical, and biological determinants. EJ analysis attempts to take into consideration the relationships between economic, social, and environmental systems in order to produce more equitable policy decisions. [88] EJ analysis uses an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing and addressing environmental justice issues, and places particular emphasis on community involvement in regulatory processes. [89] EJ analysis can be used to identify communities with high priority environmental justice concerns; improve environmental conditions and public health in minority, low-income and indigenous communities and tribes; and, provide the distributional or equity dimension to benefits and costs associated with any regulation, action, or policy.

Environmental Justice Analysis

What are the main steps in an Environmental Justice Analysis?

EJ analysis generally considers a number of factors, including proximity and exposure to environmental hazards, presence of susceptible populations, unique exposure pathways (e.g., cultural practices, subsistence diets), multiple and cumulative effects from environmental and health hazards, ability to participate in the decision-making process, and physical infrastructure (e.g., schools, access to health care). [83, 90-92] While there is no standard formula for how EJ analysis should be conducted, there are general principles and steps that most analyses follow:

  • Step 1—identify the affected subpopulations, including low-income populations, minority populations, or tribal communities; 
  • Step 2—engage in a public and transparent dialogue with potentially affected subpopulations;
  • Step 3—determine the affected environment, including the geographic scale of potential impact and the demographic composition within that geographic bound;
  • Step 4—analyze how environmental and health effects are distributed and assess potential exposure and risk vectors;
  • Step 5—develop and select alternatives in close collaboration with the subpopulations that may be disproportionally affected. The magnitude of disproportionate impact should be a factor in the environmentally preferable alternative; and,
  • Step 6—evaluate immediate and long-term impacts on the affected environment and communities.

EJ analyses incorporate principles and methodologies from a number of different tools. Segmentation analysis may be used as part of an EJ analysis to help identify vulnerable populations, as well as trends within those specific subpopulations. Cumulative risk assessment may be used to help analyze the distribution of environmental and health effects across different subpopulations and communities. Other tools that support EJ analysis are health impact assessment and benefit-cost analysis.

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What are the strengths and limits of Environmental Justice Analysis in a sustainability context?

Incorporating EJ analysis into the decision-making process promotes sustainability by highlighting the relationships between economy, society, and the environment. However, while scientific and quantitative advancements in EJ analyses have enabled researchers and stakeholders to better grasp disproportionate impacts of environmental stressors and socio-demographic conditions, the complex nature of interactions between these factors is not fully understood. [93] For example, EJ analyses are often required to be performed without the benefit of full-scale epidemiological studies and, hence, while correlations between health impacts and populations may be apparent, analysts should be mindful that the cause and effect may not have been demonstrated.

Analysis of environmental justice issues often involves a combination of socio-demographic analyses in addition to exposure and health risk modeling over a spatial framework in order to determine how the impacts of an action are distributed across the affected population. This is often accomplished through visual mapping of one or more factors that contribute to cumulative impacts. Therefore, data for these visual maps need to include information on proximity of populations to various hazards (e.g., industrial facilities and other sources of exposure to chemicals), estimated or measured pollutant exposure concentrations, and social and health vulnerability indicators for populations (e.g., race, income, age, educational attainment, and health status). [93] Care should be taken to ensure that the data used adequately captures the full range of activities within and conditions endemic to environmental justice areas.

The use of mapping tools provides an important spatial element to EJ analyses, allowing analysts to pinpoint areas of disproportionate impacts or areas with high concentrations of vulnerable populations, often on localized levels. However, the degree of spatial definition varies both among mapping tools and locations and the usefulness of visual tools depends on the context of the problem. When only spatial information is used, analysts must be aware of potential misinterpretations of data that demonstrate correlation between effects and population, rather than cause and effect.

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How are Environmental Justice Analyses used to support EPA DECISION-making?

EPA is working to integrate environmental justice broadly across a wide-range of activities, including policy development, rule writing, permitting, and enforcement. In accordance with Executive Order 12898 (PDF) (5 pp, 19K), EPA has developed plans to incorporate environmental justice and civil rights into Agency programs, policies and daily work. [84] EPA’s Plan EJ 2014, guided by former Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Agency-wide priority for environmental justice, sets forth the following goals:

  • Improve the scientific basis for regulatory and policy decisions in order to ensure that everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
  • Increase the relevance of science to policy making by transforming how EPA formulates, designs, prioritizes, conducts, and fosters more citizen participatory, inclusive, and collaborative processes within the scientific research enterprise.

The plan calls for additional focus on analyzing the incidence, demography and spatial distribution of environmental justice communities, as well as development of tools for assessing the disproportionate impacts that affect these communities. Consistent with Plan EJ 2014, EPA is developing a screening tool that may allow for consideration of exposure and health risk modeling based on socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., race, income, age, education attainment, and health status); distribution of environmental and public health burdens; proximity of populations to various hazards (e.g., industrial facilities and other sources of exposure to chemicals); and, stakeholder and community concerns and priorities.

EPA is developing a variety of user-friendly platforms to help decision-makers conduct EJ analyses: Geoplatform--a geospatial data platform using cloud infrastructure; Urban Atlas (PDF) (2 pp, 98K) --a web-based mapping tool for assessing the status of local natural resources and their benefits; Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool -- a web-based tool for understanding environmental pollutant exposures and human health risk; as well as an Environmental Quality Index tool to measure county level environmental quality.[93-95] In addition, EPA’s Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling (CREM) sponsors a searchable Models Knowledge Base that contains a variety of tools for environmental modeling, including a number of spatial exposure modeling tools that are helpful to EJ analysis. [96]

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Where to Find More Information about Environmental Justice Analysis

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Illustrative Approach Applying Environmental Justice Analysis

  • Collaborative Problem Solving Supporting Environmental Justice

    Source: EPA, Office of Policy [26]
    Sustainability tools: collaborative problem-solving; environmental justice analysis; social impact analysis; design charrettes

    A low income, African American community in Spartanburg, South Carolina used EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Model (PDF) (44 pp, 1MB) to address a myriad of environmental and health concerns. The community is located near abandoned textile mills and industrial facilities, two Superfund sites, several brownfield sites, and an active chemical facility. In addition, the community faced a 25 percent poverty rate, a lack of adequate health care, public safety problems, substandard housing, transportation problems, and a lack of social services.

    The community took the following actions to confront its health and environmental challenges and stimulate community revitalization:

    • Issue identification, community visioning and strategic goal setting. Design charrettes is a sustainability tool that may assist in identification.
    • Community capacity-building and leadership development;
    • Consensus building and dispute resolution;
    • Multi-stakeholder partnerships and leveraging of resources;
    • Constructive engagement by relevant stakeholders;
    • Sound organization and implementation; and
    • Evaluation, lessons learned, and replication of best practices.

    The CPS process enabled the community to engage all of its stakeholders to identify problems and set priorities, build the capacity to address its needs, take steps to resolve longstanding disputes, establish a leadership structure and develop strategic partnerships. As a result of the collaborative effort, the community has been able to leverage more than $200 million in government and private sector funds to cost-effectively address its environmental threats. Ongoing stakeholder meetings and annual status reports allow the community to continue to evaluate its progress and assess future needs. [26]

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  • EPA Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program: Public Involvement Plan

    Source: EPA Office of Sustainable Communities [253]
    Sustainability assessment tools and approaches: collaborative problem-solving; environmental justice analysis; sustainability impact assessment

    Sustainable communities strive to foster economic growth, protect environmental resources, enhance public health, and plan for development. However, many communities lack the tools, resources, and information to achieve these goals. In response to this need, EPA developed the SGIA Program. The SGIA Program is an annual, competitive assistance opportunity for state, local, regional, and tribal governments (and non-profits that have partnered with governmental entities) that want to incorporate smart growth techniques into their future development plans. The program provides assistance in the form of a contractor team of national experts, rather than through a grant. These experts conduct site visits and develop detailed reports that provide information to help the community achieve its goal of encouraging growth that fosters economic progress and environmental protection.

    The city of Las Cruces, New Mexico requested SGIA assistance to develop a Public Involvement Plan and Toolkit to engage residents in the local planning process—especially those from ethnically diverse, low-income populations and others that had limited to no previous involvement in community planning—. The city government collaborated with EPA, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the US Department of Transportation, and other local stakeholders using a CPS approach.

    Using the principles of CPS, the community developed a strategy for achieving local participation in planning and decision-making. The process was implemented in two visioning workshops for the El Paseo corridor, a 1.7-mile corridor in downtown Las Cruces. The Public Involvement Plan and Toolkit have been successful in providing a framework for meaningful public engagement, outreach, and participation strategies necessary to build trust, excitement, and support among Las Cruces residents for city projects and initiatives. [246]

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  • Green Report: Maryland

    Source: Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) Green Report: Case Studies on State Efforts to Achieve Sustainability, March 2012 [254] [Used with permission from the Environmental Research Institute of the States (ERIS), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the State of Maryland]

    Suite of sustainability tools: environmental justice analysis; ecosystem service valuation; sustainability impact assessment

    The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE or “the Department”) has adopted the definition of sustainability that the United Nations World Commission on Environmental Development adopted in 1987. According to the commission, sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

    Maryland created the Smart, Green & Growing (SGG) initiative in 2009 to serve as the organizing force behind Maryland’s sustainability efforts by providing a place where citizens, businesses, organizations, and governments can come together to strengthen the state’s economy, protect its environment, and improve the quality of life of Maryland’s citizens. Many state agencies are involved in SGG, with different agencies taking the lead on different issues.

    The sustainability activities Maryland is undertaking include:

  • Chesapeake Bay Cleanup
    The Department is leading State efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay. An unprecedented effort is underway to meet the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, the pollution diet for the bay. The Department is working in concert with its sister agencies and US EPA to ensure that it will meet its obligations to clean up Chesapeake Bay.

    A healthy Chesapeake Bay is critical to a Sustainable Maryland. In addition to being a cultural icon, the bay is a major economic driver for shipping, recreation (swimming, fishing, boating), fisheries (crabs, oysters, striped bass), and real estate. The effort of restoring the bay Exit EPA Disclaimer also will have a significant positive impact on restoration jobs, local streams, and even drinking water.

    Climate Change
    Maryland is working diligently on evaluating solutions to reduce the state’s impact on the climate Exit EPA Disclaimer. With the passage of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 (GGRA), Maryland has committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2020 and to preparing a plan to meet a longer-term goal of reducing GHG emissions by up to 90% by 2050. The plan will promote new green jobs, protect existing jobs, and positively influence the state’s economy. Maryland’s commitment to regional initiatives such as the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard will help obtain the goals of the GGRA.

    The Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative
    The Department is undertaking the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Exit EPA Disclaimer. This initiative will assist state policymakers and regulators in determining whether and how gas production from the Marcellus Shale in Maryland can be accomplished without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health and safety, the environment, and natural resources. MDE and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in consultation with an advisory commission made up of a broad array of stakeholders, is tasked with undertaking a study of drilling for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland. Maryland recognizes that domestic energy production is important to the state’s and country’s long-term sustainability. However, it is equally important for the state to consider protection of public health, safety, the environment, and natural resources to ensure long-term sustainability. This initiative serves as an opportunity for Maryland to achieve the balance necessary to ensure all of these goals can be realized.

    Water Resource Management
    While Maryland has relatively abundant water supplies, in some areas of the state the current pattern of water use may exceed the sustainable supply. Ensuring a sustainable use of water includes planning and management of water resources Exit EPA Disclaimer in a comprehensive way that responds and adapts to changing conditions, balances competing uses of water, and promotes efficient use of the resource. In order to accomplish this goal, Maryland has undertaken a number of initiatives, including studies to better define its groundwater resources, encouraging local governments to better plan for their needs, assess hydrologic conditions, develop appropriate responses to drought conditions, and prepare for the potential impacts of climate change.

    Environmental Justice
    EJ Exit EPA Disclaimer at MDE parallels the Department’s mission and emphasizes quality of life, economic development, and environmental protection improvements in all communities, particularly those far removed from decision-making. The EJ policies at MDE are working to improve the quality of life in communities through a vision of partnerships and collaborations. A primary goal of EJ policies is to integrate the goals of all concerned parties to resolve concerns and assist in revitalization efforts through approaches that are aimed at protecting and restoring the environment, as well as stimulating economic growth and safe, healthy communities. Other key components of the EJ efforts at MDE include initiating collaborations among government, public, and private stakeholders; developing new platforms for public participation, community, and business participation; and, creating new and innovative ideas to assist in land and community revitalization.

    Pollution Prevention (P2)
    MDE’s Pollution Prevention program assists businesses in adopting P2 practices that reduce pollution at the source, including conserving water and energy resources. Pollution Prevention is an approach that aims to prevent pollution, avoiding treatment and recycling when there are avoidance/efficiency options. Pollution prevention is the Department’s preferred approach to dealing with environmental pollution. Pollution prevention enables the Department to encourage businesses to go beyond compliance. Results and best practices are shared through case studies and articles, as well as through a pollution prevention recognition program managed by MDE called the Maryland Green Registry Exit EPA Disclaimer. The P2 services Exit EPA Disclaimer currently offered by MDE include:

        • Environmental Management System Implementation Assistance
        • On-Site Pollution Prevention Technical Assistance
        • Pollution Prevention Intern Program
        • Lean & Clean Assessments

    There are a variety of tools being utilized to evaluate Maryland’s sustainability activities. Maryland’s major programs and progress are measured through the Governor’s StateSTAT process. StateSTAT is a performance-measurement and management tool implemented by Governor Martin O'Malley to make Maryland state government more accountable and efficient.

    Additionally, the Governor’s office created BaySTAT to assess, coordinate, and target Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay restoration programs and to provide citizens with a way to track our progress. BaySTAT has helped identify strategies, actions, and short-term milestones to restore Chesapeake Bay.
    Maryland also utilizes interactive mapping tools to track its progress. Tools such as GrowthPrint, GreenPrint and AgPrint are helping guide growth and protection of Maryland’s most important landscapes.

    Maryland developed its Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) to measure how development activities impact long-term prosperity, both positively and negatively. Traditional indicators like the Gross Domestic/State Products address only economic transactions. They do not include environmental and social costs, quality of life, or the significant contributions of our natural systems. The GPI is factoring social and environmental costs and values into traditional economic indicators. The GPI helps the state find a balance between advancing economic gain and ensuring social well-being.

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  • Green Report: District of Columbia

    Source: ECOS Green Report: Case Studies on State Efforts to Achieve Sustainability, March 2012 [254] [Used with permission from the Environmental Research Institute of the States (ERIS), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the District of Columbia]

    Suite of sustainability tools: segmentation analysis; social network analysis; social impact assessment; environmental justice analysis; life-cycle assessment; futures methods; benefit-cost analysis; eco-efficiency analysis

    Sustainability that matters to our community

    The District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is currently coordinating a citywide sustainability planning effort for the Mayor. The Agency does not have an “official” formal definition of sustainability at this time. However, the Agency frequently uses a working definition that defines sustainability as the nexus of the environment, economics, and equity. DDOE also describes sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. These definitions are intended to be grounded in environmental protection, but inclusive of the critical connections between environment, economy, and equity.

    DDOE is home to core state and local programs that are simultaneously addressing sustainable practices including water and air quality protection, wildlife preservation and restoration, land remediation and toxics reduction, energy efficiency, and conservation. The Agency is working to integrate traditional regulatory programs into citywide sustainable efforts to strengthen programs and achieve the greatest possible environmental, health, economic and other equity benefits of cross-media coordination.

    Sustainable DC
    DDOE is co-lead (with the DC Office of Planning) of the Mayor’s sustainability planning process called Sustainable DC.

    Sustainable DC was launched in September 2011 with an intensive community outreach program. Throughout September and October, staff attended 50 community meetings and events to hear people's visions for a sustainable DC and actions the community can take to realize those visions. In November 2011, nine working groups (focusing on the built environment, climate, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, water, and the overall green economy) were launched to develop recommended goals, actions, and indicators. These recommendations will be integrated into a draft plan in summer 2012.

    In this role, DDOE is playing a coordination function among the Green Cabinet, representing more than a dozen key agencies directly affecting citywide sustainability, including transportation, public works, health, public schools, real estate, economic development, employment services, and water and housing authorities.

    STAR Community Index
    DDOE also is coordinating with a national effort to develop the STAR Community Index Exit EPA Disclaimer. This is a framework for gauging the “triple bottom line” of sustainability and livability of US communities. STAR is intended to transform the way local governments plan and develop policies in the way that the US Green Building Council’s LEED program transformed the building industry. STAR will measure a jurisdiction’s sustainability across measures in specific categories. Through these standardized measures, cities will be able to more objectively assess their progress towards sustainability and compare themselves to other cities across the country.

    Because of the size and complexity of STAR’s scope, ten jurisdictions were selected to serve as beta communities (Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boulder, CO; Chattanooga, TN; Cranberry Township, PA; Des Moines, IA; King County, WA; New York, NY; St. Louis, MO; and the District of Columbia). These communities will test and review the measures for appropriateness and feasibility.

    Benefit-Cost Analysis and Eco-Efficiency Analysis
    DDOE implements stormwater management projects on public sites. When evaluating project proposals, DDOE staff evaluates the cost/benefit of each proposal. The evaluation includes an analysis of the dollars per gallon of stormwater retained or treated, and whether the proposal will implement new technologies that may be beneficial to the District’s water quality efforts. At a much larger scale, staff is analyzing the relative environmental, economic development (jobs), and social equity benefits of digging huge tunnels to manage stormwater flows versus a large-scale deployment of green infrastructure (i.e., Low-Impact Development). Whereas traditional analysis might only look at the relative environmental performance and costs of these systems, this new sustainability-driven analysis will assess job creation, social support (i.e., unemployment and other social services) investment reduction, heat-island effect mitigation, community beautification, property value enhancement, and the costs and environmental performance of these systems.

    Environmental Justice Analysis
    DDOE considers social equity as a cornerstone of sustainability. Like many other states and local jurisdictions, DC, through DDOE’s Office of Enforcement and Environmental Justice, reviews major development plans to assure that no disparate environmental harms are imposed on minority and low-income populations. Under the Mayor’s evolving sustainability strategy, EJ will likely evolve into much more than a risk assessment/risk management process, and will become a means of assessing the relative benefits of District investments on the distribution of opportunity and hardship across the city. A good example is the new program incorporated into the DDOE’s proposed stormwater regulations, which would allow off-site stormwater mitigation for projects that cannot meet the city’s aggressive 1.2 inch rainfall retention standard. These off-site projects likely will occur in less-developed portions of the city, which tend to be DC’s lowest-income communities. This option will bring substantial investment in tree planting, bioretention, green roofs, and other practices that will not only allow more and better stormwater management, but also will create jobs and beautify neighborhoods– and reduce the significant social disparities across DC. And the program will increase stormwater management by over 50 percent, while reducing costs by 30 percent.

    Future Scenario Analysis
    During the next year, DDOE will forecast the impacts of the District’s revised stormwater regulations. The purpose of this analysis is to determine how future development will lead to improvements in water quality and how DDOE’s new off-site mitigation program will impact EJ issues in the city.

    Life-Cycle Assessment
    The District's revised stormwater regulations will include a payment-in-lieu option for sites that cannot otherwise meet their regulatory obligations. To determine the appropriate price for this option, DDOE staff developed a life-cycle cost assessment to capture the full cost of implementing stormwater practices.

    Segmentation Analysis, Social Impact Assessment, and Social Network Analysis
    The District has developed a new social marketing campaign to reduce litter. The campaign includes significant social and psychological (focus groups and interviews) analysis to determine the root causes of litter and to develop effective messages and approaches that will have an impact. Additionally, the program has surveyed residents to evaluate the impact of the marketing campaign as well as the new Bag Law that requires a 5-cent fee on disposable paper and plastic bags. 

    In addition to the tools mentioned above, DDOE has developed some new tools to measure the District’s sustainability activities:

    • Green Dashboard

    To help residents understand the District’s progress in becoming a more sustainable place in which to live, work, visit, and play, DDOE’s Office of Policy and Sustainability developed an online interactive Green Dashboard containing approximately 60 indicators in six categories (air quality and climate, energy and buildings, nature, transportation, waste and recycling, and water). Users are able to manipulate the data by time period and metric to suit their interests and will be able to also download raw data and image files of graphs for later use. Additionally, the Dashboard provides contextual information for each indicator, including information on what the data mean, why they are important, how the District compares to other jurisdictions, and ways users can get involved. Information is presented in an easy-to-read style with images and links to make the information engaging and digestible.

    • GreenUp DC

    DDOE developed GreenUp DC, an interactive web tool that teaches property owners how to reduce their energy footprint and stormwater releases. The tool tracks energy reduction and stormwater activities, and creates reports that allow DDOE to fulfill its legal obligations to US EPA. GreenUp DC allows DDOE to be transparent and responsive with up-to-the-minute statistical reporting on energy performance and stormwater reductions.

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