The Rising Tide to Address Environmental Justice
According to global data collected by the World Metrological Organization (WMO)—over the past 50 years, the US alone has suffered a total of $1.4T in economic losses due to weather, climate, and water hazards, representing nearly a third in disaster related causes globally.1
This equates to more than 11K disasters attributed to weather, climate, and water-related hazards, accounting for just over 2M deaths and $3.64T in monetary losses globally in US dollars.
Unfortunately, natural disasters disproportionally impact those who live in lower income areas with fewer resources to mitigate these damages. This is where you may have heard the term “environmental justice” or EJ for short. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” 2
They go on to state that “this goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys”:
- The same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and
- Equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
This is a lofty goal; currently, people living in disproportionately impacted communities often lack access to expertise, education, and resources to participate in the decision-making process. This means people who are most likely to see their neighborhoods and livelihoods affected by natural disasters are the most ignored when it comes to planning and resource allocation. In the long term, this perpetuates a vicious cycle, whereby these communities take longer to recover after a disaster and are hit harder economically. How do we, as a society, address these issues holistically?
President Biden aims to address both climate and EJ issues through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which he signed on August 16, 2022. In a statement that the White House made on Tuesday August 23, 2022, the US government estimates the cumulative climate-related benefits from the IRA will range between $0.7T and $1.9T through 2050. This is based on research conducted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which considers statistics like those cited at the beginning of this memo.
How will these benefits affect those in marginalized communities? Several facets of this act most likely to have an impact on EJ include:
- A funding provision for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to improve infrastructure in disadvantaged communities
- A provision to support the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) with additional funding to track pollution and climate change impacts to EJ designated communities and provide access to reporting to these communities
- Funds granted to the EPA to reduce air pollution in schools located in low-income and EJ designated communities
Some activist reports indicate that close to $50B is set aside in the IRA for EJ related causes. A detailed analysis featured in the Harvard Environmental & Energy Law Program (EELP) dated August 12, 2022, provides additional information on each area specifically earmarked with EJ impacts. This includes direct as well as indirect EJ benefits. To learn more about the EJ component of the IRA we highly recommend diving into this table created by Harvard EELP, which breaks down each provision by category, IRA section, and the type of benefit provided.
Beyond the IRA you can also look for ways to mitigate climate risks both within your facilities and operational footprints. Many employers underestimate the impact that climate may have on their assets and their workforce. Small adjustments include investing in weatherproof building materials or conducting climate scenario analyses with EJ screens on operations to develop mitigation measures in the event of a natural disaster. You can also educate and participate by making wise climate choices and forming community partnerships to help advance environmental solutions in our own backyards.
We have compiled a list of resources on how your company can help further EJ below.
- Urban Waters Small Grant Program: seeks to build community partnerships to help restore impaired water resources in a way that benefits the surrounding communities and the economy.
- Brownfield Grants: provides direct funding for brownfields assessment, cleanup, revolving loans, environmental job training, technical assistance, training, and research.
- The Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program: provides financial assistance to eligible organizations working on or planning to work on projects to address local environmental and/or public health issues in their communities.
- Environmental Justice Small Grants Program: designed to assist community based and tribal organizations to develop solutions to local environmental and public health issues.
- Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers (EJ TCTAC) Program: encourages public and private universities and colleges, non-profits, and tribal entities to establish technical assistance centers across the nation providing technical assistance, training, and related support to communities with EJ concerns and their partners.
These are just a few examples of programs available to most communities, and many of these include elements that address environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainability objectives.
We realize that there is a wealth of resources available online and hope that this summary has provided you with some ideas and inspiration for how you can be part of a positive change in your personal life, organization, or community. We would also encourage you to contact community-based organizations (CBOs) that work on the ground are great resources to understand in detail and in context of the particular needs of a community. Here is a great resource to find recognized leaders working on issues of EJ in the US.
1 https://climatedata-catalogue.wmo.int/explore; https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/2021-us-billion-dollar-weather-and-climate-disasters-historical
Apex Associated Press (Apex AP) represents contributions from various authors within the Apex professional community.
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