Environmental Justice on the State and Federal Levels

On the State Level

The State of California is committed to endorsing Environmental Justice. It was the first state to codify an official definition for EJ and place its efforts within the Chief Executive’s Office. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) employs several methods to promote EJ which include: a coordinating committee, a steering committee, listening sessions and tours, development of models for community partnerships, state agency policy development, employee training, briefings for state agencies, conferences and seminars, and a Cal/Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) interagency working group. Through these methods, the State has made several discoveries concerning EJ. EJ issues not only involve race and poverty, but emotion and power as well. EJ issues are difficult to identify and raise comprehensive concerns in the community, which often raise complex environmental and economic issues. Many of these issues are bred from a distrust of governmental institutions and take time and communication to alleviate through a combination of solutions. Effective EJ programs address five programmatic areas: leadership and accountability; planning and priority settings; adequate allocation of resources; public participation and capacity building with communities; and sustainability.  

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has proven to be highly dedicated to EJ. The department’s mission is to improve mobility across California, which includes providing transportation services in an equitable manner to all of society. A Director’s Policy and Deputy Directive were released in November 2001 that specify the various responsibilities of all Caltrans staff to address the issue of EJ. Caltrans also provides an EJ grant to promote the participation of diverse and under-served communities in the planning and implementation of projects. This was done in hopes of reducing and alleviating any disproportionately high adverse effects, while attempting to improve the quality of life of the community.

On the Federal Level (DOT)

In addition to the EO, the Department of Transportation (DOT) also operates under its own Environmental Justice Order, DOT Order 5610.2(a), which was last updated in May 2012. The DOT Order promotes the principles of environmental justice “as embodied in the Executive Order” in all DOT programs, policies, and activities. The Order directly effects low-income and minority populations that are in “geographic proximity” of any current or proposed transportation programs, policies, or activities of the DOT. With its EJ strategy, the DOT hopes to: reduce, avoid, and mitigate any disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects; ensure participation by potentially affected communities in decision making; and prevent the denial, reduction, or significant delay of the receipt of benefits by low-income or minority populations. To do so, DOT is determining the most effective and efficient way to integrate the processes and objectives of the Order with existing regulations and guidance. It also hopes to determine whether any programs, policies, or activities do, in fact, produce disproportionately high and adverse effects by providing communities with the opportunity to comment on DOT propositions that may directly affect them. If there were to be disproportionately high and adverse effects, the DOT provides guidance on actions to be taken to address them. These guidelines include mitigation measures and consideration of alternatives to reduce or avoid them. These measures address community issues such as pollution prevention, health and safety, mitigations, compensation, etc. 

In order to better its implementation of the principles of EJ, DOT strongly encourages public outreach and community involvement. DOT recognizes that coordination with community leaders produces locally appropriate outreach plans and public engagement, because information will be disseminated to the communities. Furthermore, DOT educates its employees through training courses which cover topics such as infrastructure planning and development, environmental mandates, implementation of civil rights programs, public involvement, and management of Departmental facilities and resources. Training and guidance are also provided regarding how technical evaluations of transportation needs of minority and low-income populations are conducted.