Le Lézard
Classified in: Environment
Subject: Nonprofit

WE ACT Urges Prioritization of Communities Shouldering Largest Environmental and Economic Burdens

Demonstrating their continued commitment to environmental justice advocacy, WE ACT for Environmental Justice today urged the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to address the racially disproportionate increase in the number of communities added to Version 1 of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST). In a new memo sent to Interested Parties, WE ACT detailed the impacts of the methodology changes on addressing environmental injustices. The organization estimated the impact of the new methodology to decrease eligible Latino people by as much as 2.83% and a decrease of 1.77% of eligible Black people. The adjustments also increased the number of white people to benefit from the Justice40 Initiative by 10.7 million, diluting the proportion of eligible communities of color. Out of 15.7 million people added, only 1.57 million were Black which is roughly 10%, lower than their overall representation in the population.

"Although we are pleased to see some of our feedback taken into consideration with the initial release of the CEJST and progress has been made to improve qualifiers, there is still a lack of precision to the tool, and it only tells a very superficial story," said Manuel Salgado, WE ACT's Environmental Justice Research Analyst. "We must continue encouraging the administration to create more targeted measures to reach more accurate conclusions and, in turn, enable the communities that are being harmed the most to receive the most benefits."

The Justice40 Initiative is the Biden-Harris Administration's commitment to respond to decades of institutionalized harm in communities of color and/or areas of low income. The CEJST is central to ensuring the just and equitable distribution of 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments in areas most impacted by climate change and decades of disinvestment. The tool has an interactive map and uses dataset indicators of burdens in eight categories: climate change, energy, health, housing, legacy pollution, transportation, water and wastewater, and workforce development.

CEQ launched the CEJST Beta version early last year and solicited feedback from federal agencies, Tribal Nations, state and local governments, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, environmental justice stakeholders, and the public. WE ACT was among those who provided feedback to refine the methodology.

Late last year, CEQ released Version 1.0 of the CEJST, which incorporated feedback received in June 2022, and changed the methodology used to designate communities as "disadvantaged." While the adjustments increased the number of disadvantaged communities, it now calculates lower percentages of communities of color. Additionally, in the updated version, redlining was only considered in a limited context and therefore doesn't have the impact that environmental justice communities advocated for. Lastly, the methodology in Version 1 does not incorporate any measure of cumulative impact. Incorporating cumulative impact into the methodology will ensure the CJEST highlights those persons with the most extensive environmental burden and help Justice40 benefits reach the communities facing the most significant hurdles.

"By adjusting the tool's methodology, we're not getting an accurate picture of impacts that harm Black, Latino, and Indigenous populations. If the cumulative impact is not considered, they are diluting the potential financial benefit to the communities that desperately need the funds," said Dana Johnson, Senior Director of Strategy and Federal Policy with WE ACT. "We urge the CEQ to expand its methodology so that communities intentionally harmed by systematic racism and redlining can receive the maximum benefit."

WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in creating sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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