In the three decades since a debate over the development of a landfill in a low-income minority community in North Carolina sparked the modern environmental justice movement, there’s never been a clear definition of “environmental justice.”
The Obama administration has vowed to work toward the fair treatment and involvement of all people in environmental matters, and U.S. EPA’s “Plan EJ 2014″ has been advertised as a road map for incorporating the needs of poor, minority and overburdened communities in the government’s day-to-day activities.
But critics and watchdogs — notably, the Government Accountability Office — have long questioned how EPA plans to draw lines defining environmental justice communities (Greenwire, Nov. 11, 2011).
“Without a clear strategy for how the agency will define key environmental justice terms, EPA may not be able to overcome the challenges it has faced in establishing a consistent and transparent approach for identifying potential communities with environmental justice concerns,” GAO wrote last fall. That report echoed concerns the watchdog agency raised in 2004.
This week, at a public meeting of EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) in Arlington, Va., agency representatives unveiled their latest attempt to bring some clarity to the issue.
Enter EJ Screen, an EPA mapping tool designed to help the agency spot pockets of people whose health has suffered disproportionally over the years because of environmental factors.
That’s amazing. The EPA has discovered poor people are likely to occupy less-des-res. How do they do it?