Advancing Environmental Justice in the Commonwealth
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) defines EJ populations as neighborhoods (U.S. Census Bureau census block groups) that meet one of more of the following criteria:
Environmental justice is not just a procedural problem, but also one of substantive social and economic inequalities. There are many obstacles that make it very difficult for EJ populations to participate in planning and development decisions in their communities. These residents are more likely to be unaware of environmental issues due to a myriad of social factors including language barriers and limited access to educational resources. In addition, EJ populations are often unable to participate in environmental decision-making processes because they often must work longer hours to compensate for lower hourly wages.
advancing environmental justice has been through grassroots community
activism focusing on the rights and liberties of people of color and low-income
communities relative to the environment and particularly, in response
to the disproportionate burden of industrial pollution and lack of regulatory
enforcement in these communities. In 1994, President William Clinton issued
entitled, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority
Populations and Low-Income Populations" mandating federal agencies
to address environmental injustices in their operations and in communities
across the country. Since, and in accordance with Title VI of the federal
Civil Rights Act of 1964, states and municipalities have developed policies
and programs to pro-actively address environmental concerns to ensure
that minority and low-income communities are not disproportionately impacted
by environmental hazards.
|Environmental Justice and Smart Growth / Smart Energy|
growth/smart energy seeks to protect natural resources, enhance quality
of life, offer housing and transportation choices, and improve municipal
finances by taking into consideration location, design, and long-term costs
when making development decisions. As an environmentally and affordability-conscious
approach to development, smart growth/smart energy encompasses strategies
and concepts that have distinct opportunities for promoting environmental
justice. This is demonstrated throughout the Patrick Administration's
Sustainable Development Principles, which provide basic guidance to
local officials, developers, and citizens about smart growth/smart energy.
Particularly, Principle 2: Advance Equity calls for specific attention
to environmental justice:
Promote equitable sharing of the benefits and burdens of development. Provide technical and strategic support for inclusive community planning and decision making to ensure social, economic, and environmental justice. Ensure that the interests of future generations are not compromised by today's decisions.
In order for smart growth/smart energy to advance environmental justice, it is essential that EJ populations be considered and included in the planning process. If not, there is a greater risk that new growth could inadvertently exacerbate environmental injustice by creating more pollution in EJ communities, or that the improving environmental conditions could cause gentrification and displacement of families. Meaningful involvement in environmental decision-making is central toward advancing environmental justice. Municipalities play a key role in ensuring fair and genuine outreach and public participation by local residents.
|Public Participation in Environmental Justice Communities|
Public participation is a primary component of land use planning and sustainable development. Engaging EJ populations in planning and development processes in their community creates unique challenges when conducting outreach. Neighborhoods where people lack English language proficiency or where many of the residents work multiple jobs may be harder to involve than more affluent demographic groups. Some strategies supporting public participation in environmental justice communities include:
Outreach and public notification. Often enhanced outreach is required to engage EJ populations in environmental decision-making. Although traditional outreach and notification efforts (e.g., meeting notices in the local paper or internet-based notification) are important, many EJ constituencies may not have access to these resources due to language barriers, income level, or limited access to computers and other technology. Alternative media resources should be utilized when conducting outreach including foreign language newspapers, radio broadcasts, and community newsletters. The local public library and churches are also key places for project/meeting notification and outreach.
Identifying local leaders and gathering places. Many EJ neighborhoods may have local leaders already in place in the form of a civic or neighborhood association. In a less official capacity, practitioners may look to schools, community centers, churches, medical facilities or any other institutional facilities that serve the community on a regular basis. Local pastors or school teachers may have access to the neighborhood in a manner that is reliable and in an environment that has already created a foundation of trust. Holding or advertising meetings in local venues may also be an effective strategy for reaching a significant portion of the neighborhood population.
Holding public meetings that are sensitive to demanding work schedules. As many EJ communities may have residents working for hourly wages, odd hours or longer shifts, it may be necessary to schedule outreach events in a manner that provides multiple opportunities to discuss the same issues. It may be difficult to predict the optimal schedule within which to reach out to different EJ communities, so practitioners should be prepared to hold meetings during both day and evening hours, and on weekends to best engage a particular community. Practitioners should also get input from community members to determine meeting times that would most likely maximize attendance by local residents.
Providing support services during public meetings. In communities where residents may be working more than one job or where the incidence of single-parenting is higher than average, many residents may have basic personal responsibilities that make it difficult to attend public meetings. Where necessary, community outreach efforts should include basic support to help families handle issues of child care. Providing "play rooms" with volunteer monitors may make it easier for parents to attend meetings. Holding meetings as part of or directly after regularly scheduled events, such as school or church service may also make these outreach efforts more convenient to attend.
Ensuring effective communication across language barriers. One very basic outreach strategy that must be considered with many EJ communities is the use of translators where residents do not speak or understand English. In order for many EJ communities to effectively communicate their concerns about complex land use issues, it may be necessary to have translators on hand during private interviews and in public meetings. Additionally, written project materials and handouts should be translated into the foreign language(s) spoken and understood by local residents and distributed at meetings and hearings.