Identifying and Engaging Communities
In recent years, some states have sought to incorporate principles of equity and justice data into agency decision-making. As a first step, states often develop frameworks to collect and evaluate data to identify communities facing environmental challenges. This has resulted in the development of a variety of tools, including California’s CalEnviroScreen, Maryland’s MD EJSCREEN and Washington’s Environmental Health Disparities Map, used by decision-makers to visualize and quantify environmental burdens.
Fair treatment: No group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.
- People have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment or health.
- Public contributions can influence a regulatory agency’s decision.
- Community concerns will be considered in the decision-making process.
- Decision-makers will seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.
Further, states have required certain agencies to prioritize the needs of at-risk communities in their policies and operations. For example, Virginia’s HB 1164 (2020) ensures that the Department of Environmental Quality administers laws and policies in a way that meaningfully involves “all people regardless of race, color, national origin, faith, disability or income.”
States have also sought to bolster community engagement requirements concerning environmental decision-making. Connecticut, for example, now requires (HB 7008; 2020) agencies to file public participation plans.
Examples of enacted bills include:
- Maine LD 1682 (2021): Requires the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future to incorporate equity considerations in decision-making at the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utilities Commission and other state agencies.
- New York AB 10001 (2022): Requires the Department of Environmental Conservation, in consultation with the Environmental Justice Interagency Coordinating Council and the Climate Justice Working Group, to study the impacts of the urban heat island effect on disadvantaged communities.
- Oregon HB 2475 (2021): Authorizes the Public Utilities Commission to consider environmental justice factors that affect rate affordability for certain utility customers.
- Washington SB 5141 (2021): Requires specific state agencies to create and adopt community engagement plans. Among other requirements, these plans must specify how the agency intends to use environmental, demographic and health disparities data to evaluate the needs of communities that may be impacted by agency actions.