Environmental Justice

EM – April 2023: This month, EM describes major recent environmental justice actions, what has been driving this push for action, and what has been put in place to ensure that the issue will remain front and center for years to come.
by Christopher Whitehead

Environmental justice (EJ). Two words that many in the industry rarely if ever heard prior to the last few years. My first professional introduction to the issue was 16 years ago walking into a public hearing in New York when a senior consultant told me, “Don't worry about this hearing. It won't hold up the project. If we get any negative comments, it'll likely just be nuisance odor and noise stuff.” That never sat well with me. Recently, we have seen a push to get past transactional community engagement models built around seeking permit approvals to sustainable community partnerships based on adaptive stakeholder engagement models. Sites are identifying if they are in an EJ area (based on state-specific census-based screening thresholds) and then, in some cases, calculating their potential cumulative impacts on the surrounding community. Regulatory action and funding increases are pushing these parameters at the federal, state, and local levels. Much of this is centered around components of the generally accepted definition for EJ, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement…” in environmental decisions that affect local communities.

Many in environmental professions are not accustomed to considering social issues on their projects, things that don't necessarily fit neatly into a spreadsheet. But for us as environmental practitioners to best serve our clients in the most ethical and responsible way, it means embracing the uncomfortable and listening to the needs of the community, while also fighting for your project. Effective EJ/community engagement programs can be seen as being good for a company's bottom line—likely leading to more community support, fewer enforcement issues, and greater employee engagement and retention.

In this issue of EM, we hear from four EJ experts and their coauthors: Hilary Jacobs from Beveridge and Diamond, Rhea Goswami from the EJ Coalition, Tequila Smith and Charles Giordano from Covanta, and Ralph Morris from Ramboll Consulting and Groundwork Richmond.

Continue reading the full April 2023 issue of EM.


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