Release of 2017 EJSCREEN Update

By Matthew Tejada

One of the best parts about working for environmental justice at EPA is that we constantly have the opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life across the United States. We hear from county commissioners, road builders, city planners, elected officials, professors, tribal leaders, and of course we hear from community members and community based organizations on a whole host of issues impacting their health, their environment and their quality of life. Over the years, it has been heartening to hear what communities have learned, and could achieve, when they used EJSCREEN.

EJSCREEN was released to the public to provide a common starting point for engagement and mutual understanding when discussing environmental justice issues. It provides people with a tool to consider impacts, to ask better questions, and to bring a deeper level of transparency to important data. EJSCREEN’s use has continually grown since it was publicly released. In two years, it has been used over 200,000 times, and we have constantly worked to make sure that the tool evolves to meet the needs of its ever-expanding user base.

I am excited to announce that EJSCREEN has some important new enhancements.

  • We improved our water indicator to show water bodies potentially impacted by toxicity and water pollution.
  • At the request of many of our local government and planning users, we have added municipal level boundaries.
  • We have included new and improved layers on schools and public housing.

And we have of course updated all of the tool’s environmental and demographic indicators with the most recently available data.

Over the past year, we have focused on expanding the ways we engage with our users. We completed an in-depth user survey to gain greater insight for improving EJSCREEN in the future. We are also generating case studies so users can learn how others use the tool in their work.

The range of uses is impressive. In New Jersey, transportation agencies are using EJSCREEN to inform initial planning for new road projects. A North Carolina-based community group used EJSCREEN to identify air-quality concerns and potential environmental threats to adjacent neighborhoods. And EJSCREEN helped Coeur D’Alene, Idaho identify vulnerable areas for greater outreach and consideration. These examples point to why environmental justice is important and how making good data transparent puts environmental justice into action.

To help our many users understand the tool and its updates, we will be hosting a series of webinars with EPA EJSCREEN experts on August 21, September 7 and September 14.

We hope that you will test out EJSCREEN to see how it can serve your needs and provide us feedback on how we can continue to improve it. You can also subscribe to the Environmental Justice ListServ so that you can receive updates on our upcoming EJSCREEN activities.

We look forward to hearing from you – and in the meantime, we hope you find the new version of EJSCREEN as useful as we do!

About the Author: Matthew Tejada is the Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Engaging Indigenous Peoples on Environmental Justice at the UN Permanent Forum

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About the Authors – Ethan Shenkman is the Deputy General Counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Jim Grijalva is a Professor and Directs the Tribal Environmental Law Project of the Northern Plains Indian Law Center at the University of North Dakota School of Law. Danny Gogal is the International Human Rights Coordinator and the Environmental Justice Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Program Manager for EPA, and resides in the Office of Environmental Justice.

At the EPA, we see providing meaningful engagement for our most vulnerable and underserved communities as a fundamental part of fulfilling our mission to protect this country’s environmental quality and public health. This work includes engagement with federally recognized tribes and indigenous people.

At the United Nations 15th Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice was able underline the importance of this principle by hosting a panel to highlight the agency’s 2014 Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples. The policy seeks to better clarify and integrate the principles of environmental justice throughout the Agency’s work with federally-recognized tribes and other indigenous peoples.

During the panel, “Environmental Justice and Indigenous Peoples,” the Policy was commended for its efforts to ensure effective engagement and collaboration on environment and public health with federally-recognized tribes on a government-to-government basis as well as opportunities for all members of indigenous communities.

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Ethan Shenkman, Jim Grijalva, and Danny Gogal at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

EPA’s Danny Gogal described the historical development of both the agency’s tribal program and its environmental justice program; Ethan Shenkman explained what the EPA is doing to ensure that the rights of Indian tribes and indigenous communities are adequately considered in Agency decision-making, which can help promote effective environmental governance; and, Jim Grajalva from the University of North Dakota’s School of Law reported on the multiple successes as well as remaining challenges of the EPA’s Indian and tribal program and how the role of non-governmental and grassroots organizations can assist tribes and indigenous people in protecting their environments.

The panel provided a unique opportunity for all of us to connect with representatives from federally-recognized tribes and other indigenous peoples, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations, and various federal agencies.

Participants stressed the significance of ensuring the meaningful involvement of not only the leadership of federally recognized tribes, but also state-recognized tribes, indigenous and tribal community-based organizations, and individual members of tribes. This is in keeping with the environmental justice principle that the people most directly impacted by environmental laws and policies must be central to the development and implementation of those laws and policies.

This engagement and consideration is exactly what the EPA is working to strengthen. By promoting sound environmental governance through opportunities for public participation, access to information, implementable and enforceable laws and strong accountability mechanisms, we believe that the EPA continues to make significant progress as the result of the Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples.

For example, the EPA recently held discussions about uranium mine cleanup plans, including voluntary alternative housing options, with the Navajo Nation’s Red Water Pond Road community. Such direct engagement with indigenous communities promotes better governance by providing full access to information and meaningful public participation.

Permanent%20Forum%20-%20Blog[1]And recently, the EPA released EJ 2020 Action Agenda, its five-year environmental justice strategy, which includes specific actions and measures for how the EPA intends to work collaboratively with federally recognized tribes and other indigenous peoples.

The UN Permanent Forum serves as a valuable venue for UN Member States and indigenous peoples throughout the world to share best practices, policies, programs and activities. Through these dialogues, we are able to improve the environment and public health conditions while protecting indigenous culture and quality of life.

We look forward to continuing this conversation and to sharing more at the 2017 Permanent Forum on progress made to provide for environmental justice for tribes and indigenous peoples in the United States, so other countries can learn from our successes as well as our shortcomings.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Climate Change, Public Health and Environmental Justice: Caring for Our Most Vulnerable Communities

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About the Author: Lesley Jantarasami has worked in the Climate Change Division of the U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation for over 7 years to integrate scientific information to inform policy on climate change risks to human health and the environment. Lesley was a lead author on the interagency Climate Change and Human Health Assessment report published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. She also serves as the Division’s environmental justice and tribal coordinator, managing projects to identify and communicate climate change risks to minority, low-income, and indigenous populations.

Some hear the word vulnerable and think “that’s not me.”

Many people don’t think of themselves as being vulnerable because the word can conjure images of people living in other parts of the world, in other economic situations, or with different life stories and experiences.

The Duwamish River is truly an urban resource that supports wide-range uses, including: industry, boating, fishing, residential, and just relaxing. Due to industrial and stormwater pollution, the lower 5.5 miles of the river was placed on the EPA's Superfund site list in 2001.Visit www.epa.gov/region10/duwamish to learn more about EPA's efforts to clean up and restore the Lower Duwamish River.

But the U.S. Climate and Health assessment, recently released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, found that every American is vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change at some point in their lives. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you care about, climate change affects you. Climate change affects everyone’s health because it threatens our access to clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food, and shelter.

And though we are all vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, some groups are disproportionately affected. In other words, there are many factors that can contribute to someone being less able to prepare for, respond to, and cope with the impacts of climate change on health, and these factors thus increase vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change. For people of color, low-income communities, immigrants, and people who are not fluent in English, these factors can include:

  • living in areas particularly vulnerable to climate change (like along the coast);
  • coping with higher levels of existing health risks when compared to other groups;
  • living in low-income communities with limited access to healthcare services;
  • having high rates of uninsured individuals who have difficulty accessing quality healthcare;
  • having limited availability of information and resources in a person’s native language; and
  • having less ability to relocate or rebuild after a disaster.

Climate-related health challenges are an environmental justice issue because certain communities that already experience multiple environmental health burdens are also disproportionately affected by climate change. These groups are less able than others to adapt to or recover from climate change impacts. Understanding our shared vulnerabilities to climate change can help people and communities plan for risks, adapt to changes, and protect health.

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Click here to access the Climate Change Materials!

Click here to access the Climate Change Materials!

EPA received requests from community leaders for products that would help them inform and educate their community about the potential impacts of climate change on their health. In response to this need, EPA recently posted communication materials that summarize key points from the U.S. Climate and Health Assessment.

We’ve created communication materials for a variety of other populations disproportionately affected by climate change, including, indigenous people, pregnant women, children, older adults, occupational groups, people with pre-existing health conditions and people with disabilities.

You can access these materials at: http://go.usa.gov/xkMus.
For questions or to request more information, email climatehealth@epa.gov.

These informational materials are designed to be easy to adapt for your needs and are accessible to a range of audiences that want to know more about how climate change health risks are connected to environmental justice concerns.

Also, you can join EPA on January 17, 2017 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time for a webinar that will introduce these communications materials and discuss how they can be used to inform your conversations about climate change health risks and connections to environmental justice concerns. Please register for the webinar here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/climate-change-health-environmental-justice-tickets-30148534077

We hope you find these materials useful and we look forward to speaking with all of you during our upcoming webinar!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Community Voices: building the capacity of those at the forefront of change

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About the Author: Joan Vanhala works for the Hennepin County government and was recently was selected as a member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Group of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. She has previously worked as a Coalition Organizer at the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability.

When working to promote environmental justice, there is one expert who is more knowledgeable than all the others – the community member. The community member lives the issues and therefore carries an understanding of their nuances and complexities that outsiders will never truly grasp. When we work on environmental justice cases it is vital that we actively listen and respect the voices of the community.

I have witnessed how bringing these voices to the forefront can initiate substantial policy change. In the Twin Cities region of Minnesota, as one component of their Partnership for Sustainable Communities planning grant from the federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation and EPA, the city took an innovative approach to build community capacity. This energized the communities throughout our region to join in the planning of eight major transit infrastructure investments. In 2011, our metropolitan planning organization—the Metropolitan Council—received a sustainable communities planning grant to support a local initiative called the Corridors of Opportunity.

As a part of this initiative, my organization, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, was asked to serve on the community engagement team with a University of Minnesota organization, the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing, and a community-based funder, the Nexus Community Partners. The budget included $750,000 for community engagement of under-represented communities.

It could have been an easy decision to divide these funds amongst our three organizations. Instead we set up a nonprofit-government partnership to re-grant these funds directly to the environmental justice groups.

CESC Met Council Sept 2015

Metropolitan Council

Recognizing that working collectively creates strength, these communities came together from across our region to form a community engagement steering committee, which partnered with the Metropolitan Council to establish regional standards in community engagement by co-authoring the Public Engagement Plan.

This plan utilizes an approach that is grounded in the principles of equity, respect, transparency, relevance, accountability, collaboration, inclusion, and cultural competence. As a result of this plan, the internal practices of the Metropolitan Council have shifted from simply implementing projects for the community to actually engaging with the community throughout not only the development of transportation infrastructure, but also regional planning, waste-water treatment, parks, and housing.

Not only does this document shift practice within the Metropolitan Council but it is also being studied by other local governments within our seven counties and 182 cities within the region.

In addition, several members of the steering committee led the charge to ensure equitable development from public investments within transit corridors by creating the Equitable Development Principles & Scorecard. The goal of the scorecard is to ensure that the principles and practices of equitable development, environmental justice, and affordability are applied in all communities as they plan for economic development and wealth creation that benefits everyone.

Metropolitan Council

Metropolitan Council

An example of equitable development has been demonstrated by the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, which was founded to recover and preserve, revitalize and grow the historic African American Rondo community in St. Paul that was devastated by the 1960s construction of Interstate 94. Along with preserving and strengthening community ties, the neighborhood development corporation has revitalized their community by partnering with three transit oriented development projects: Rondo Library and Apartments, Frogtown Square, and the newly built Western U Plaza.

With the support of government and non-profit advocacy groups, our communities have established themselves as a powerful voice in our Twin Cities region. As a result of their organization, they have been able to develop and implement plans and policies that are making a difference in securing sustainable outcomes for all community members, especially those most impacted by infrastructure development.

This outcome can only be achieved when we bring the one expert who is more knowledgeable than all the others to the table – the community member.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Universal Periodic Review and Indigenous Issues: A Federal Servant’s View

Indigenous representatives at the United Nations

Indigenous representatives at the United Nations

About the Author: Eric Wilson is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho. He has been a federal servant at the Department of the Interior for over 38 years. He is the former Chair of the UPR Indigenous Issues Working Group and the current Co-Chair of UPR Working Group 3.

A senior U.S. government delegation from the DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs met with U.S. indigenous representatives at the United Nations Office at Geneva one day before appearing before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to present its 2013 periodic report on the implementation of U.S. obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

A senior U.S. government delegation from the DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs met with U.S. indigenous representatives at the United Nations Office at Geneva one day before appearing before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to present its 2013 periodic report on the implementation of U.S. obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

I was initially reluctant to address environmental justice in Indian policy because I saw it as a distraction from our efforts to communicate about tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between federally recognized tribes and the United States. Through the involvement of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), however, I came to see the importance and necessity of having a federal program that provides space and opportunities for all indigenous peoples to raise environmental concerns and have them addressed by the federal government, especially in the context of human rights obligations.

Back in 2009, the Department of State had some big ideas about how the federal government should prepare and report, for the first time, its work and accomplishments on human rights for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  We decided to host a series of meetings around the U.S. – and to do them in less than three months. This became known as “the road show.”

It was an ambitious schedule, visiting regions and engaging with civil society stakeholders: community groups and non-governmental organizations, local and state governments and officials, and, of course, tribal governments and their citizens.

U.S. Government Civil Society Consultation on Indigenous Issues hosted by the University of Oklahoma Law School, 2014

U.S. Government Civil Society Consultation on Indigenous Issues hosted by the University of Oklahoma Law School, 2014

For the tribal component of the UPR road show, the University of New Mexico’s School of Law agreed to host a session that was quickly augmented by the Navajo Nation offering a day trip to the Reservation for a meeting with their officials and citizens. Experienced federal staff, including representatives from the EPA’s OEJ, participated with these sessions.

Collaborating with EPA led to the first ever U.S. side event on “Environmental Justice and Indigenous Peoples” at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, this past May.  The event provided the opportunity for the U.S. to highlight our collaboration with both federally recognized tribes and all other indigenous peoples to address their environmental, public health and other quality of life concerns.  This served as a government “best practice,” demonstrating to other nations the necessity of governments to meaningfully engage all indigenous peoples, not just those officially recognized.

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, May 2016

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, May 2016

Our August 17th Civil Society Consultation marked the resumption of the UPR process. This consultation was organized by the interagency UPR workgroup that I co-chair. Our team set the bar a bit higher for coordination and for ways to help civil society participate in honoring human rights in our collective daily work.  I encourage you to join us in identifying ways that the federal government can more effectively work with all parties interested in providing for human rights and other quality of life needs (i.e. environmental, economic, social and cultural) of vulnerable populations, including indigenous peoples.  And, plan to participate in our future public meetings, which will be posted on the Calendar for UPR Working Group Civil Society Consultations. You can also engage with us on the UPR process as we work to implement the 2015 UPR recommendations.

A senior U.S. government delegation met with U.S. civil society representatives at the United Nations Office at Geneva one day before appearing before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to present its 2013 periodic report on the implementation of U.S. obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Press Release: geneva.usmission.gov/2014/08/11/u-s-delegation-to-the-com... U.S. Mission Geneva Photo/ Eric Bridiers

Navajo Nation Human Rights Commissioner meets with the US Ambassador to the United Nations

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.