As we have explained, environmental justice will be a central focus of the Biden-Harris administration. A recent Executive Order declares federal agencies “shall make achieving environmental justice part of their missions by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts.” Both big and small, changes are coming at the federal level on permitting, rulemaking, enforcement, and other actions that will have a practical impact on corporations and communities.
California, never to be outdone, is taking steps of its own to prioritize environmental justice. This week, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced a proposal to significantly update CalEnviroScreen. Similar to the U.S. EPA’s “EJSCREEN,” CalEnviroScreen is a tool used by state agencies and the public to identify California communities that may be disproportionately burdened by sources of pollution.
CalEnviroScreen can be used by state agencies for many purposes, including enforcement prioritization. In speaking about the update, California Secretary for Environmental Protection, Jared Blumenfeld, explained that “[e]nvironmental justice can only be achieved by identifying impacted communities. CalEnviroScreen is a mapping tool that helps us focus efforts and investments where they are needed the most.” The updated CalEnviroScreen makes changes focused on exposure, environmental effect, sensitive population, and socioeconomic indicators.
OEHHA has scheduled a webinar on March 3 to explain the proposal, with six subsequent virtual public workshops. There is an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposal until April 30.
At the federal level, the expectation is the U.S. EPA will not only look for new ways to use EJSCREEN but also update the tool, which has been an issue community-based organizations have been advocating for years. California’s efforts with CalEnviroScreen may foreshadow federal action and advance the Biden-Harris administration’s environmental justice priorities.