According to a University of Michigan study, environmental justice advocacy organizations across the country support state-level environmental justice screening instruments.
These screening tools identify the communities most affected by environmental injustices. The new study was published online in the journal on February 1. Environmental Law ReporterU-M researchers reviewed the state-level environmental justice screening tool and conducted in-depth interviews to nearly 30 stakeholders in the United States to find out their views on the utility of using such tools to advance environmental justice goals.
The researchers identified state-specific environmental justice screening tool makers, analyzed state-specific screening tools to determine how they were used in their respective states’ environmental justice programs and policies, then identified the benefits of these screening tools. They also identified possible resistance to environmental justice screening tools and strategies for overcoming it.
Researchers interviewed stakeholders from California and Washington, New Jersey. Maryland, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, and Michigan. The state’s official environmental justice screening tool (MiEJSCREEN), is expected to be released in 2022. Stakeholders identified several benefits of screening tools, including the ability to share information, assist in community advocacy-based activities, and influence regulatory/policy-based decision-making.
“Many frontline community members from across the United States have shared their experiences with pollution, and its impact on public health. These testimonies, however, are rarely included in decision-making by polluting industry, state and local officials,” Molly Blondell said, one of the study’s authors and a graduate at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.
These EJ screening tools combine socioeconomic and health data to visualize the most extreme environmental injustices. They also support community testimony. These tools are versatile and can be used to help with the development of EJ policies and community-oriented decision making processes, according to our interviewees.
The study was carried out in partnership with Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. They have been active in pushing for the use a Michigan-based environmental screening tool to establish environmental laws and ensure justice-based community actions.
Paul Mohai, a professor at U-M School for Environment and Sustainability and co-author of the study, said that this study is timely because of the “considerable interest across the country in developing EJ screening tools for state-specific EJ screening methods that can help locate and document areas where disproportionate cumulative environmental burdens exist.”
Mohai noted that Michigan used prior environmental justice research done by U-M graduate students to identify “hot points” of environmental injustice in the state. This guide was used when creating the Michigan-specific screening instrument.
There are many benefits to screening tools. However, researchers found that there is sometimes resistance from stakeholder groups. This can be both internal (within state governments or agencies) and externally.
According to the study, industry, state officials and community members might resist screening tools because of their limited scope, data accuracy or ability to be implemented.
Arianna Zrzavy (the study’s lead author) said that while each state has its own socio-political concerns there were common groups that interviewees believed were resistant. She is also a graduate from the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. “Some groups were already well-known to us as they had appeared in environmental justice literature. We were surprised to discover the ways in which state governments and agencies would resist screening tools by affecting their resources or internal processes.
Researchers sought to get suggestions from stakeholders about how to overcome this resistance through messaging and framing.
Blondell stated that many of our interviewees felt that EJ screening tools were not being used in a way that was useful for decision-making. “In response to this, our interviewees discussed how EJ screening tools could be framed as information-gathering and educational resources. These tools can be used to capture both state-level and local-level information.
Zrzavy said that environmental justice screening tools can be “crucial” for EJ policies. But, the key takeaway was that they only have impact if they’re used to correct environmental injustices. Michigan state decision-makers and others across the U.S. need to work together with communities to improve the well-being and health of communities affected by cumulative impacts.
Many definitions of environmental justice have been developed over the years, including one from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the EPA definition of environmental justice, it is the fair treatment of all people and meaningful involvement in the development, implementation, and enforcement or policies related to environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
The Environmental Justice Screening Tool Development, Resistance and the Challenge of Cumulative Impacts: Lessons from Addressing Cumulative Effects www.eli.org/sites/default/file … les-pdf/52.10111.pdf
Study: Lessons from environmental justice screening tool design and resistance (2022 February 2)
Retrieved 2 February 2022
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