EPA Science: Providing the Foundation for Environmental Justice

By Fred Hauchman and Andrew Geller

the cover of the EJ 2020 action agendaYesterday, the Agency released the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, outlining our strategic plan to advance environmental justice for the next five years and set a course for greatly reducing or eliminating environmental health disparities for generations to come. The overall vision is to bring the promise of a clean, healthy, and more sustainable environment to everyone in the country, no matter where they live, work, play, or learn.

The plan recognizes that while we have made great progress improving the quality of air, water, and land over the past 40-plus years, there are far too many people who still face serious impacts and risks from exposures to environmental pollutants. We know that the people most affected are disproportionately from economically disadvantaged and minority communities. That’s not acceptable. As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has stated, “Everyone deserves to have their health protected from environmental exposures.”

As always, science is critical to making that health protection a reality. That’s why the EJ 2020 Action Agenda includes an explicit commitment by the Agency to conduct and support collaborative, community-based research. This approach is needed to not only better understand the complex, interrelated factors that lead to disproportionate environmental and related public health burdens, but to provide citizens with the information, data, and tools they need to fully participate in making the decisions that affect their communities and take action.

We will continue to develop and improve innovative decision support tools that help public health officials, citizen groups, researchers, and others identify and prioritize environmental concerns and assess cumulative impacts. This includes tools such as EnviroAtlas, the Community Cumulative Assessment Tool, and the recently released Community-Focused Exposure Risk and Screening Tool, (C-FERST).   It also includes EPA’s Tribal Science effort, recognizing EPA’s responsibilities to America’s indigenous peoples and our shared role in building the capacity for the sovereign tribes to construct environmental programs that serve their nations. This suite of resources provides robust online mapping and visualization capabilities, extensive databases, case studies, and customizable applications.

Our researchers work closely with EPA’s Regions, local communities and stakeholder groups to continually improve and upgrade these and other EPA tools and resources, hold workshops and seminars, and solicit feedback. Such community engagement is key. Frequent, two-way communication with our community partners helps teams identify the highest priorities early. Together we can tailor research strategies that in the end will deliver the information and decision support needed to make lasting, visible local impact.

Another area where science and research are providing the foundation for actions to address environmental justice concerns is through the development of innovative environmental monitoring tools. Our researchers are helping usher in a new generation of low-cost, portable environmental sensors—empowering communities to collect and monitor conditions in their air, water, and other environmental media.

As outlined in EJ 2020: “New technologies and sensors have the potential to supplement regulatory monitoring, provide information on operating processes to facility managers and inspectors, and enable community engagement in the measurement of local pollution through the use of affordable, easy-to-use analytical tools (citizen science).” This emphasizes that citizen science advances environmental protection by helping local communities understand local problems and collect quality data that can be used to advocate for or solve environmental and health issues.

We are committed to providing the science and engineering solutions needed to realize that potential.  It’s part of our strategy to ensure that the benefits of environmental protection reach every community across the country. That’s the promise of EPA research, and what every American deserves.

 

About the Authors: Fred Hauchman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Office of Science Policy, which is the lead organization for integrating, coordinating, and communicating scientific and technical information and advice across EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), and between ORD and the agency’s programs, regions, and external parties.

 

Andrew Geller, Ph.D., is the Acting National Program Director for the Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) research program. SHC researchers are working to provide the knowledge, data, and tools local communities and others need to advance a more sustainable, healthy, and vibrant future. A major priority is delivering the research needed to support 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.

Shaping a More Sustainable and Socially Just Future

By Sue Briggum

Many U.S. companies take pride in being more “sustainable” by reducing environmental impacts and engaging constructively with the communities in which they operate and the customers they serve.  Corporate sustainability reporting is replete with examples of resource conservation efforts and sustained initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas footprints.  Non-governmental evaluative frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative and CDP provide powerful templates for demonstrating environmental progress.

With regard to the social justice pillar of sustainability, however, we are only beginning to understand the potential for progress.

Considered from this perspective, EPA’s Draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda outlines a framework for a fairer and more sustainable future.  EPA characterizes the sustainable elements of its plan in terms of opportunity to use a community-based approach to make “a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities.”  Moreover, the EJ 2020 draft framework highlights a number of practical approaches to shaping more sustainable and socially just environmental programs.

EJSCREEN provides the data to make discussions about overburdened and underserved communities concrete and factual.  With data from this tool, it becomes much easier to see whether public or private efforts to improve the environment, provide jobs, or fund new amenities align with social justice or thwart it by giving more to those who already have a great deal.  The tool is powerful because instead of relying on assumptions and impressions, it simply relays the facts in formats that are easy to see.  For example, with EJSCREEN it will be easy to see whether a new educational grant program is benefiting communities which, because of income or language barriers, need that supplement, or whether lead paint removal funding is going to communities least able to do the work on their own.

Tools like EJSCREEN also inform EPA’s efforts to align regulatory programs with environmental justice goals by incorporating considerations of environmental justice into permit issuance.  When environmental justice is part of the permitting discussion rather than a consideration after the fact, the “rules of the road” are clearer for all parties.  EPA’s emphasis on constructive engagement and collaboration throughout its draft EJ 2020 framework forecasts an intent to make permitting engagement constructive and focused on problem-solving.  It’s far easier to re-route traffic, refine a monitoring program, or address operational concerns in project design and permitting than to do so as a contentious afterthought.  EPA’s facilitation of this kind of collaborative engagement can save all parties time and grief because community perspectives are known, considered, and addressed.  The process itself builds familiarity and, in time, trust.

The most basic building block for environmental justice is its incorporation within environmental programs as crafted, not just as implemented by permit.  In recent rules, EPA has employed the power of tools like EJSCREEN to understand and address geographic distributional effects.  Through its Environmental Justice Research Roadmap, there will be opportunities to address the more difficult issue of how to understand and address inequities that are population-based rather than place-based – for example, how environmental and social factors can contribute to health disparities.

Regulations and permits are only as good as the assurance that they are followed.  EPA’s continuing commitment to focus enforcement efforts in overburdened communities has long been applauded by the business community.  It’s a key means to assure a level playing field and consistent community protection.

Finally, the strength of the 2020 Action Agenda is that it is a Framework — a consistent approach across EPA programs and authorities.  If EPA engages across the agency, with the partners it identifies and in the open and communicative manner it embraces, 2020 should be replete with success stories from all stakeholders’ perspectives.

About the author: Sue Briggum is Vice President of State and Federal Public Policy, Waste Management, and a former member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee providing advice to the EPA. Sue also co-chaired the NEJAC work group on EJ Screening, as well as served as a member of the Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) work group on EJ in Rulemaking.

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.

20/20 Vision: Inspiring Us to Act

By Jalonne White-Newsome

I’ve been wearing glasses since the age of five because my vision has always been pretty bad.  So I was surprised when my eye doctor told me during my last exam that my vision had actually improved and my eyes were getting stronger! I was shocked because I assumed my vision would get worse as I got older.  But, luckily, that was not the case.

While my physical eyesight has improved over time, my view and perspective about environmental protection and public health have changed as well.

When I worked as an engineer at a chemical manufacturing facility, located adjacent to a low income community of color in Texas, I saw the importance of environmental regulations, and I also saw the need for compliance and enforcement to protect communities that had been dumped on for years.  My vision sharpened when I moved on to work in state government, where I organized environmental justice meetings to foster multi-stakeholder conversations about re-building trust between government and citizens, and working to develop holistic, participatory solutions to solve complex environmental and economic challenges.  Later, as a public health researcher who used science and tools to unpack the cumulative impacts of climate change, poverty, and disease on the elderly, my vision became clearer again.

Little did I know that almost every element of my work at the state and local level to protect public health and the environment was shaped by EPA’s agenda.  Whether it was recognizing the importance of compliance and enforcement, building trust between government and communities, or using research to inform policy and advocacy, these elements – and many more – continue to be critical pieces of EPA’s agenda and the agenda of many advocates working for environmental justice across this country.

Now, as an environmental justice advocate who works on federal policy, I have learned the importance of vision.  EPA has a vision that’s 20/20.  What is laid out in its draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda Framework (currently out for public comment) builds on the accomplishments of Plan EJ 2014 to carve a vision for the work that will continue through the next five years.

But most importantly, EJ 2020 is about moving this vision to reality.  EPA’s vision has been sharpened by its experience with environmental justice leaders across this country who have continued to engage, participate, criticize, and push the Agency to work to eliminate the environmental injustices that persist in communities across this country.

It is time to be clear that the expectations from communities are greater. Affected communities must be engaged early in the game. Agency actions must include an adequate EJ analysis. All programs and efforts should be transparent and evaluated through a collaborative process with multiple partners.  The vision of this Administration and the EPA must be clear.

The time is now that the “frames” that seek justice – Executive Order 12898, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EPA’s guidance on considering environmental justice in rulemaking, EJSCREEN, and soon, EPA’s EJ 2020 Action Agenda – will allow the Agency to implement the priorities laid out in EPA’s draft framework.

The vision is clear and we know what we need to further environmental justice. EJ 2020 – coupled with intentional community engagement and accountability – is the framework that can get us there.

About the author:  Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome is the Director of Federal Policy for WE ACT for Environmental Justice.  She is based in Washington, DC.

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.

EPA-State Collaboration Expands Opportunity for Shared Results

by John Linc Stine

Addressing inequities so that all citizens can pursue healthy and fulfilling lives is one of our most important jobs in public service. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has challenged state agencies in Minnesota to reduce disparities in all areas of public services and outcomes. As Commissioner of the state’s environmental agency, I have made it my mission to embed the principles of environmental justice into all aspects of the work we do now and in the future.

In Minnesota, we are fortunate to live in a state with a healthy natural environment that contributes to a high quality of life. This is due in large part to a long history of shared responsibility and action by all areas of society in our state to build and support healthy ecosystems and healthy communities, and responsive industries and a strong economy. However, we know not everyone has benefited equally. In Minnesota, as around the rest of our country, significant and unacceptable disparities exist between middle and upper income people and lower income residents and people of color and Native Americans. This includes gaps in educational and economic achievement and health outcomes.

For too long, many of us in government talked about injustices of the past and present without following up and putting our words into action. EPA’s renewed commitment to action and results about environmental justice has helped to revitalize efforts in Minnesota that had been simmering on the back burner. The ambitious and comprehensive foundation laid by the work of EPA’s Plan EJ 2014 not only advanced integration of environmental justice into federal programs; it also helped to stimulate and strengthen our own efforts by showing leadership, providing tools, and sharing experiences. EJ 2020’s emphasis on collaboration with states and other co-regulators will expand the opportunity for shared learning among states and the EPA – something I believe will only help strengthen our individual efforts.

In Minnesota, we are working to integrate environmental justice into all of our programs, using our expertise and resources to target our work where it will have the greatest effect in reducing past harm and preventing future harm. For example, in Minneapolis, we are piloting an initiative to engage and collaborate with significant air emission sources and community members to identify opportunities to improve air quality and address community concerns. We also are increasing our air monitoring in potentially overburdened communities around the state to better understand disproportionately impacted areas.  Our draft framework can be found at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/gp0r2d.

As we adjust the practices of our programs and capacity to address environmental justice needs, we are benefiting from the experiences of EPA, its Chicago regional office, and other states with more mature programs than our own.  We will do better work in this area by sharing knowledge.

EPA’s work is closely aligned with our approaches and goals in Minnesota. While we share many of the same goals, we bring different strengths and resources to bear that complement each other. For example, with more local knowledge and existing relationships with municipal governments and community groups, states are often in a better position to facilitate community engagement and support community-based efforts to advance environmental justice. With more resources for policy analysis, tools development, and scientific research, EPA fulfils an important role where individual states may have less capacity. The development of EJSCREEN is an example of this role. In these ways, EPA and MPCA can complement each other, moving us both toward our goals more efficiently.

As EJ 2020 takes shape, we look forward to working with EPA and other states to learn from each other and leverage our unique capacities to reduce disparities and improve quality of life for all.

About the author: John Linc Stine is the Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and chairs the Environmental Council of the States’ Air Committee.

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.

Help Shape the Future of EJ at EPA: Participate in Webinars on EJ 2020 and EJSCREEN

by Charles Lee

Too often, America’s low-income and minority communities bear the brunt of our country’s pollution. These environmental and public health threats make it harder for kids with asthma to learn in school, families with medical bills to manage finances, and people hurting from pollution to find a job.

Under the leadership of Administrator McCarthy, EPA is committed to making a visible difference in these communities. As chair of the federal interagency working group on environmental justice, she is working to ensure that EPA and other federal resources go to communities that need them the most. That’s why I’m excited to share with you exciting news about opportunities for you to learn about and have a voice in developments that will help EPA advance environmental justice.

As part of our effort to engage as many stakeholders as possible, EPA is hosting two national webinars about the new draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda framework – EPA’s next overarching strategic plan for environmental justice. EJ 2020 is a strategy to advance environmental justice through EPA’s programs, policies and activities. Read Mustafa Ali’s blog for more about how EJ 2020 is about defining new goals for the coming years. You can RSVP for the EJ 2020 webinars here.

EJ 2020 National Webinars

  • May 7th: 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Eastern
  • May 14th: 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Eastern

We are also hosting three informational webinars about EJSCREEN, EPA’s soon-to-be-released environmental justice screening and mapping tool. The tool provides demographic and environmental information for all areas of the United States, and includes a method for combining environmental and demographic data into “EJ indexes,” to assist in identifying areas in the country that have higher pollution burdens and vulnerabilities.

We’re sharing this tool with the public to broaden its impact, build transparency, and foster collaboration on a shared commitment to protect American communities. We hope you will participate in using the tool and providing us feedback on how we can make it better. You can RSVP for the EJSCREEN webinars here.

EJSCREEN National Webinars

  • May 12th: 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Eastern
  • May 28th: 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Eastern
  • June 3rd: 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Eastern

I want to invite you to these webinars because the success of both EJ 2020 and EJSCREEN will be greatly enhanced through robust input and dialogue with the communities we serve. I look forward to hearing from you during these webinars, getting your thoughts and input on EJ 2020 and EJSCREEN, and continuing this conversation to advance environmental justice. Your voices, experiences and expertise can help shape a strategy that addresses the needs of communities.

About the author: Charles Lee is the Deputy Associate Assistant Administrator for Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mr. Lee is widely recognized as a true pioneer in the arena of environmental justice. He was the principal author of the landmark report, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. He helped to spearhead the emergence of a national environmental justice movement and federal action including Executive Order 12898, EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and the Federal Interagency Working Group on 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.

EJ2020: Defining New Goals for the coming years

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

Realizing environmental justice for all people, regardless of their race, income or educational status is a long journey. It will not come overnight, but EPA made an important step forward recently with Plan EJ 2014. That five-year strategic plan laid a foundation for integrating environmental justice in EPA’s programs by developing basic guidance in rulemaking, permitting and enforcement, and basic tools such as EJ Legal Tools and EJSCREEN. Now it is time to build on this foundation and expand collaborations with our partners toward making a bigger difference in the overburdened communities we serve.

That is why we are developing EJ 2020, our next strategy to advance environmental justice in EPA’s programs. EJ2020 will:

  • Deepen environmental justice practice within EPA programs
  • Strengthen our collaborations with partners
  • Demonstrate progress on outcomes that matter to communities

Today, we start community and stakeholder engagement on EJ 2020. We are already learning from the initial input on areas that we have yet to fully address. By engaging our partners at the state, tribal, local, and federal levels we’ve developed ideas like integrated and area-wide planning, green infrastructure, and advanced environmental monitoring. They’ve helped us understand the need to meet the challenge of climate change, and ways to demonstrate progress that matters to communities.

We have heard from local governments who have identified best practices in how they are addressing environmental justice. Communities from Santa Barbara, California to Bridgeport, Connecticut are coming up with solutions in areas such as green infrastructure, brownfields, climate adaptation, health disparities, reducing air emissions from the movement of freight, and issues in rural communities.

We are benefiting from everyone’s robust experience learned over several decades of work.

There are a number of powerful examples of what can happen when collaborative partnerships come together between federal, state, and local governments, communities, and other stakeholders. One of those inspiring stories is the Salt Lake City Children’s Environmental Health & Environmental Justice Initiative which is working with nine neighborhoods in central and west Salt Lake City, Utah. This project brought together more than a dozen local, state, and community-based organizations with the purpose of making a visible difference in their communities. They designed a unique community engagement model to fit the needs of the neighborhoods, created a profile report characterizing community environmental and health concerns, and created an environmental data map for the West Side community. This work has allowed the community to play an important role in the design of the West Salt Lake Master Plan. As a result of the community’s active participation in the process, they have been able to increase attention on:

  • Supporting/funding community initiated ideas through the Community Implementation grants
  • Creating increased mobility and transit use options through a city-wide discount transit pass
  • Aligning city and school district opportunities through a Community Learning Center Strategy
  • Increasing understanding of affordable housing choices through a Housing needs assessment

By honoring the culture of a community and including their voices and ideas in the planning process, we can create healthier and more vibrant communities and truly make a visible difference that is rooted in the values and priorities of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.

This effort shows how critical it is for EPA to strengthen our collaborations with the communities we serve, our government partners, and all stakeholders. We hope that everyone committed to achieving the goals of environmental justice will work with us to produce a vision and plan for EJ 2020 that is relevant to the opportunities and challenges of our times.

Several years ago, I learned that we cannot solve all the intractable problems associated with environmental justice right away, especially during a period of rising demands and dwindling resources. I am reminded of the old adage that if it was so simple, it would have been solved a long time ago. Therefore, we must be strategic. We need your best thinking about key things we should focus on to most effectively and realistically advance our common goal of achieving beneficial outcomes for our most overburdened communities.

About the author: Mustafa Santiago Ali is the Acting Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

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.