How prioritizing environmental justice in project planning can reduce discrimination
February 14, 2023
February 14, 2023
Federal action is helping bring all voices to the table in land-use decisions. What does it mean for development?
Environmental justice (EJ) offers a framework for evaluating the impact of development on communities. It focuses on those living in underserved areas and facing systemic discrimination. It’s often in these areas that projects like waste facilities or other sources of pollution exist.
This framework helps inform land-use decisions to curb harmful environmental effects. It looks at industrial planning or government policy that places more toxins in minority neighborhoods. It also reviews infrastructure decisions that hurt minority and low-income populations. The impacts are felt by displacing people, decreasing air quality, or increasing noise around homes, schools, hospitals, and houses of worship.
Examples are unfortunately common in the US:
Today, EJ is moving to the forefront of federal action and policy. This will come as no surprise to those paying attention to statements from the Biden Administration.
In support of President Biden’s “Day One” executive orders, the EPA issued an order for all regions and staff to integrate EJ into their plans and actions. The Office of Management and Budget also requested funding to help advance these priorities.
The President charged the administration to advance EJ in support of:
Managing risk is no longer an acceptable model to justify development. The intent is to avoid creating the risk in the first place.
Biden’s second executive order aims to update the regulatory review process. Some areas of focus include promoting public health and safety, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, and equity. The order aims to protect vulnerable communities.
As a follow-up, the administration is looking to review the government’s approach to addressing EJ. Focus areas include:
This new emphasis is likely to affect enforcement and regulation under many statutes. Examples include the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and others.
We can also expect to see changes to the public notice and comment process in many areas. These include new regulations, federal projects, power plants, and energy-siting decisions.
EJ advocates will say that managing risk is no longer an acceptable model to justify development. The intent is to avoid creating the risk in the first place.
Proactive and detailed evaluation will become central to real estate decisions at sites that can cause harmful impacts. Parts of the decision-making process will need outreach to get input from residents that might be impacted. The give and take of such outreach will lead to mitigation and other means to eliminate risk.
The potential effects of land-use change on EJ communities is huge. Those engaged in land development, permitting of infrastructure, or conservation of land and water should be prepared to evaluate what the changes mean.
Efforts to engage these groups are vital. It will help us develop decisions supporting—rather than disadvantaging—EJ communities.