Background on Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice and Mass Transit Projects

Over the past two decades, there has been increasing concern over environmental impacts in minority and low-income populations. Evidence suggests that some communities face disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects. This concern regarding environmental justice builds upon Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C 2000d) that requires nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs by emphasizing the need to identify and address disproportionate effects of federal programs, policies, and activities.

A formal federal policy on environmental justice was established in February 1994, with Executive Order 12898 (EO 12898) (PDF), "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-income Populations." The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has oversight of the federal government's compliance with EO 12898. CEQ has published a guidance document on environmental justice [PDF] for federal agencies. In addition, all federal agencies were directed under EO 12898 to establish internal directives to ensure that the spirit of the order is reflected in the full range of their activities.

In April 1995, the US Department of Transportation issued its Order to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations to fulfill the environmental justice policy objectives laid out in Executive Order 12898. The central objective of the order is to ensure that all federally funded transportation-related programs, policies, or activities having the potential to adversely affect human health or the environment involve a planning and programming process that explicitly considers the effects on minority populations and low-income populations.

Environmental Justice Assessment Process

Under the process outlined in Executive Order 12898 (EO 12898) and the US Department of Transportation's order, consideration of environmental justice issues must be considered during preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). General principles required as part of the EIS analysis are as follows:

  1. Identification of Minority or Low-Income Populations: Agencies should consider the composition of the affected area to determine whether minority populations, low-income populations, or Indian tribes are present, and if so whether there may be disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on these populations. This identification should occur as early as possible during the EIS process.
  2. Public Participation: Agencies should develop effective public participation strategies that assure meaningful community representation in the EIS process.
  3. Numeric Analysis: Where a disproportionate and adverse environmental impact is identified, agencies should consider relevant demographic, public health and industry data concerning the potential for exposure to human health or environmental hazards in the affected population, to the extent that such information is reasonably available.
  4. Alternatives and Mitigation: The relative impact of alternatives should be considered, and measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts should be evaluated as part of the EIS.

Federal Statutes, Orders, & Guidance on Environmental Justice

Document Description
Civil Rights Act, Title VI (42 U.S.C 2000d) (PDF) Federal law requiring nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs.
Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (PDF), Executive Order 12898 Establishes environmental justice as an integral part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process: numerical analysis of environmental justice impacts; effective public participation by low income and minority groups in the decision making process; and mitigation strategies to address significant and adverse environmental justice impacts.
Order to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (PDF) US Department of Transportation's agency level order establishing procedures for compliance with Executive Order 12898. Establishes requirements for integrating environmental justice into the NEPA process through analysis of environmental justice impacts and public involvement, as well as definitions of relevant terms.
Interim Final Guidance for Incorporating Environmental Justice Concerns in US Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Policy Act Compliance Analyses (PDF) US Environmental Protection Agency's draft guidance on implementing environmental justice in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses. Presents basic procedures for identifying and describing junctures in the NEPA process where environmental justice issues may be encountered; presents procedures for addressing disproportionately high and adverse effects to evaluate alternative actions, and; presents methods for communicating with the affected populations throughout the NEPA process.
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Environmental Justice Guidance Under the National Environmental Policy Act (PDF) CEQ's guidance to federal agencies on implementing EO 12898. Describes how analysis of environmental justice impacts must be integrated within the NEPA framework; including the scoping, public participation, analysis, alternatives and mitigation phases of NEPA analysis.


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