Let’s Ground-Truth EPA ‘s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool

Rumor has it that the Forest Service is coming out with new maps for the 10 Year Wildfire Strategy (maybe I’m missing something, but like I said it’s a rumor).  Part of it is to prioritize environmental justice, or so I heard.  So naturally, inquiring minds would want to know how this fits with the EPA EJ Screen program, which was updated in October.  Will the FS use the same maps (base data) and criteria?

 How does the EPA use this tool?

EPA uses EJScreen as a preliminary step when considering environmental justice in certain situations. The agency uses it to screen for areas that may be candidates for additional consideration, analysis or outreach as EPA develops programs, policies and activities that may affect communities. In the past, the agency employed EJ screening tools in a wide variety of circumstances.

A few examples of what EJScreen supports across the agency include:

  • Informing outreach and engagement practices
  • Implementing aspects of the following programs:
    • permitting
    • enforcement
    • compliance
    • voluntary
  • Developing retrospective reports of EPA work
  • Enhancing geographically based initiatives

EJScreen is not used by EPA staff for any of the following:

  • As a means to identify or label an area as an “EJ community”
  • To quantify specific risk values for a selected area
  • To measure cumulative impacts of multiple environmental factors
  • As the sole basis for agency decision-making or making a determination regarding the existence or absence of EJ concerns

EPA hopes to refine our uses of EJScreen as we build upon lessons learned and as we receive feedback from our stakeholders and governmental partner

The map also has “climate” risks, including wildfire risk.  If you happen to be a yellow box in the middle of orange boxes (see above) you might wonder how this fits with other wildfire risk maps.  Someone out there probably knows. But it’s always fun to ground truth these maps so take a look at your neighborhood.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a lengthy story about the state wildfire risk mapping effort that met with public blowback. Apparently the second time around, Oregon will issue a draft and allow people to comment on it.

I wonder whether EPA did that.  It seems to me that for something as important as EJ, the public should have been involved in definitions, reviewing data and all that.  And perhaps we were, but I was not on the right mailing list.

I wonder how they considered wildfire smoke in this PM 2.5 listing?

Large Carnivore Reintroductions and Environmental Justice: Alex McInturff’s Research




Thanks to Som sai for this link of interest.. I do think that environmental justice or even plain old social justice has been somewhat overlooked with regard to many issues.   We need to think about it with regard to all the issues we face.  It seems to me that it’s like so many things in our world… there’s an abstraction.. biodiversity, climate change, environmental justice, social justice; but for some reason our thinking about them gets channelized (a thinking ditch) when if we arrayed all the choices, they would be more like a braided stream, multi-threaded and dynamic.

What unique challenges do large carnivore reintroductions pose that environmental justice can help address?

Large carnivores are a unique set of species for a lot of different reasons. They are involved in just about every kind of human-animal conflict you can imagine, so we thought they were a challenging but important place to start. Some of these challenges: People who make decisions about carnivore reintroductions sometimes don’t live near the places where the recovery efforts — and potential related animal-human conflicts — are occurring. Large carnivores themselves are wide-ranging and highly mobile. One animal’s erratic behavior can impact people’s view of the entire species. So, the challenges and the opportunities go hand in hand, and that makes this difficult, but also important, to tackle.

In the paper, you describe four components of environmental justice that are important to consider in conservation projects. Can you explain those in the context of large carnivore reintroductions? 

  • Distribution considers who is actually being harmed materially and who is benefiting
  • Participation asks who has a seat at the decision-making table
  • Recognition asks whose worldview is being recognized in the terms of the debate or in the discussion itself
  • And finally, affective (or emotional) justice considers how we appropriately account for people’s emotions — fear, anger, happiness, for example — toward the reintroduction of certain species

On this last point: On one hand, we should take emotions really seriously — fear can be life-changing and is very important to understand as a harm in and of itself. And at the same time, emotions can be difficult to estimate, and they can reorient power dynamics. In the case of large carnivores, we’ve often seen people who are not vulnerable or marginalized use emotions like fear to make themselves into victims. They wind up having an even bigger voice in the decision-making process than they might have had before.

So how can we use this environmental justice framework going forward in these reintroduction efforts?

Through a justice lens, we can ask questions about who is making decisions, and whether they are people who are in power, or people who are already marginalized. We can try to measure the ways in which material harm has been inflicted on different groups of people, or the ways in which impacts are unequally distributed. Social science, or humanistic, considerations tell us a bit about the bigger picture: What are the worldviews involved, how might those limit or enable discussions that weren’t possible before, and how are people’s emotional experiences shaping these conversations and the possible outcomes?

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park happened in 1995 and has been hugely divisive ever since. People have spent millions of dollars trying to address the problems that arose. But, in fact, it might be that a different kind of framing — one around justice — could offer an important new step toward addressing these problems.

This isn’t something folks love to hear, but I think the truth is, if you expect a framework like this to give you a single, perfect answer to solve problems, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Large carnivore reintroductions include a complicated and challenging set of circumstances, so having a process in place is really important, especially one that’s informed by a good understanding of justice.

What’s next with this work?

Our goal is to walk through this framework using a possible California grizzly bear reintroduction as a case study to lay out what it would actually look like to do this while thinking about environmental justice from the very beginning.

Another option would be to study the Colorado reintroduction of wolves. Certainly it started not very well from an ej (environmental justice) .. decision made by a state-wide initiative vote and won by Coloradans who don’t live in the country of reintroduction.   Arguably it would be interesting to  begin to consider ej at this point.

Why Pick Federal Lands as (the) Climate Target? Examining Potential Environmental Justice Impacts

In this March 25, 2014 photo, workers keep an eye on well heads during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. oil well, near Mead, Colo. This is not federal land. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

There are many ways to decrease our country’s carbon footprint.  But for some reason, it seems like federal lands oil and gas leasing has become a symbolic, if not very useful, preferred intervention of some groups (some charitable foundations).  In a recent op-ed in the Denver Post,  Jennifer Rokala of the Center for Western Priorities wrote:

President Biden’s infrastructure plan is a bold vision to move America to a clean energy future–but vision is meaningless without action.

Next month, the president will head to a global climate summit, urging world leaders to cut carbon emissions, while he simultaneously expands oil and gas drilling at home and does nothing to fix a broken leasing system. When the president encourages Congress and the world to act, he has an obligation to lead by example.

Now, as we’ve discussed previously, it seems eminently reasonable to me for the Admin to be leery of being in contempt of court with regard to the leasing process. Is it actually true to say “Biden has expanded oil and gas drilling at home?”.. or is the Admin just following rules, plans, etc. currently in place.. that legally they would need to follow specific procedures to change? So to whom is this particular climate intervention such a big issue? Easiest to get maximum climate benefits (don’t think so)? Some kind of low-hanging political fruit? Least impact to poor communities? And while we think mostly of onshore, not to forget offshore federal is also part of the deal. Some federal oil producing states (Mississippi, Louisiana, as well as onshore New Mexico) are among the poorest US states.

At the same time, this interesting article from another Jennifer, Hernandez of the Breakthrough Institute, touches on impacts of such policies on energy workers who happen to be people of color.

But unaffordable utility bills are only half the story. California climate policies also require the elimination of hundreds of thousands of conventional energy jobs, and will adversely affect millions of other jobs in energy-dependent and related industries. These sectors provide stable, higher-paying employment for less educated residents, the majority of whom are workers of color and recent immigrants. In 2019, 29 percent of all new immigrants had not graduated from high school.[42]A further 20 percent finished high school but did not attend college. As better-paying blue collar work has evaporated, most have ended up in the state’s lowest-paying jobs — that massive cohort of nearly 40 percent of Californians who cannot afford to pay routine monthly expenses.

An analysis of 2017 data by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) found that “across all levels of education, earnings are higher in oil and gas industries compared to the all industry average.”[43]The energy sector provides over 152,100 direct and 213,860 indirect and induced jobs in California that pay higher wages and benefits for individuals with lower levels of education. This workforce is ethnically and racially diverse, and about 63 percent of all employees have less than a bachelor’s degree.

LAEDC also showed that another 3.9 million California jobs (16.5 percent of total state employment) rely on purchases from or use products sold by state energy producers, including chemical, machinery, and metal products manufacturing, wholesale trade, utilities, and transportation, as well as professional, scientific, and technical services.[44]Most of these sectors also provide higher-paying jobs for workers of color, often in more affordable areas of the state. These jobs are also at risk from the forced elimination of the in-state energy sector.

California climate advocates have utterly failed to provide a convincing explanation for how workers of color employed in existing energy and energy-dependent sectors will support their families once these industries are gone. Many, like the fantastically wealthy, famously haughty John Kerry, now the nation’s “climate envoy,” airily suggest that green employment will replace job losses in the fossil fuel sector. Even the staunchly progressive Washington Post conceded that this was unlikely, noting that rapid growth in the wind and solar industries over the next decade could plausibly replace at most 20 percent of the workforce of the coal industry alone.[45]

Trade unions and their Democratic political allies aren’t buying what California’s climate cognoscenti are selling either. “Career opportunities for renewables are nowhere near what they are in gas and oil, and domestic energy workers highly value the safety, reliable duration and compensation of oil and gas construction jobs,” North America’s Building Trades Unions said in July 2020 after conducting two studies of the industry.[46]“We can hate on oil, but the truth is our refinery jobs are really good middle class jobs,” echoed California state senator and labor leader Lorena Gonzalez. “Jobs can’t be an afterthought to any climate change legislation. We must have specific plans that accompany industry changes.”[47]

There are no such plans. California’s oil consumption continues, slowing only with the pandemic, while progressive climate elites see no irony in forcing California’s minority communities out of jobs while importing more oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries not known for adherence to progressive labor, gender, environmental, or civil rights values.

I also ran across this article on “Civil rights readers oppose swift move off natural gas

Hernandez also has some other interesting thoughts on housing and transportation, which are related to other TSW topics of interest. I’ll take that up in another post.