Posted: March 14, 2023

The environmental justice (EJ) movement has grown exponentially in the last several years. With efforts to create more equitable processes, projects, and programs, it’s no surprise that both the public and private sector are being more conscious of the intersection of projects and the demographics of the residents impacted. What once was primarily an element of an individual project, EJ is now evolving into a state and federal regulated standard.

New Laws Aimed To Support The Cause

According to Bloomberg Law, since 2021 more than 20 states have enacted or are preparing to enact legislation that includes environmental justice efforts. In New Jersey, companies that want to start construction projects must include an EJ analysis in permit applications. In California, state laws require that disadvantaged communities receive baseline financial benefits from the state’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

On a federal level, the Justice40 Initiative came into effect within days of President Biden taking office. As a national commitment to environmental justice, the Administration is transforming 40 percent of the overall federal investments flow to underserved communities. The initiative focuses on projects that combat climate change and focus on clean energy, urban forestry, energy efficiency, wastewater, and clean water infrastructure development for underserved communities.

Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis Home and Abroad, forms several new committees and new tools to make the EJ movement more accessible to the private and public sectors. The White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council is comprised of a key federal agencies that seek to advance the EJ movement, while the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council is composed of leaders and experts in the EJ movement that will advise the Interagency Council on ways to increase the federal government’s EJ efforts.

Funding For Environmental Justice

In 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorized $100 million a year for five years under the Healthy Streets program. The Healthy Streets program encourages urban forestry projects aimed at tackling climate change and environmental justice through roadways built using green infrastructure elements, such as tree plantings. With the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program received $1.5 billion in funding to support neighborhoods that are taking on the brunt of climate change.

CAL FIRE’s Forest Health Research program is awarding a total of $5.5 million to scientific research in 2023, including in environmental justice issues related to forest health and wildfire management. Through the Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was granted $2.7 billion to tackle climate change through environmental justice efforts. The EPA also has a number of grant opportunities related to environmental justice efforts.

Mapping tools like the EJScreen from the EPA help with regulatory processes that require any environmental justice element. EJScreen overlaps demographic areas with environmental justice indexes such as air pollution and wastewater discharge. Some states have also developed their own similar mapping tools that are more closely aligned to their own indexes and demographics.

The environmental justice movement has shed light on an important aspect of community development. As it continues to gain momentum, Davey is proud to contribute expertise to projects that aim to offer equal access to environmental benefits, such as our work in Columbus, OH and Holyoke, MA.

Want to learn more about how to incorporate principles of equity and environmental justice into your projects? Contact your local DRG office.
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