Environmental Justice

Please note: Until HUD Environmental Review Online System (HEROS) is updated to add a dedicated row for the Environmental Justice Factor on the environmental assessment (EA) Factors page of HEROS (page 4010), review preparers should report any Environmental Justice impacts and mitigation in the Other Factors row under the Natural Features EA category.

Overview

In the context of environmental review, environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, or income, including tribal persons, with respect to both positive and negative implications associated with the planning and development of a project. As applicable, environmental reviews should incorporate the meaningful involvement of low-income and/or minority communities and identify and address disproportionate environmental and human health impacts faced by these populations. Additionally, reviewers should expand access to resources, information, and best practices for health and environmental benefits relevant for the project and its expected impacts.

Consider the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts associated with environmental justice. These goals will be achieved when everyone enjoys:

  • Equal protection from environmental and health hazards
  • Equal access to the decision-making process
  • Equal access to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work
  • Protection of areas of local and cultural significance against adverse impacts caused by new development

Important Considerations

  1. Were any adverse environmental impacts identified in the project’s environmental review?
  2. Is the proposed project located in a low-income and/or minority community?
  3. Have all potentially impacted populations or communities been consulted about the project? Has there been a strong effort to discuss the project’s impacts with these communities?
  4. Is there evidence of historical environmental injustices or disproportionate impacts burdening low-income and/or minority persons or communities? Can the project remedy or play a role in remedying these existing disparities?
  5. What sources of pollution already impact the site area?
  6. Does the project disproportionately impact low-income and/or minority persons or communities? Consider direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts.
  7. Will the project affect areas of local or cultural significance?
  8. Will climate change alter the impact a project has on a marginalized community? How will this impact change over the project’s lifespan? Will this impact be disproportionate compared to the impact on the broader community?
  9. Are there ways to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of a project on a marginalized community group? Other optional siting locations?
  10. Does the project cause any secondary effects or future implications that would have environmental justice ramifications? For example, a need for new roads, degradation of water, etc.

Analysis Techniques

Preparers of environmental reviews should begin the consideration of any environmental justice impact with the following questions:

  • Is the project located in or likely to affect a community with potential environmental justice concerns?
  • Has the impacted community been meaningfully informed and involved in a participatory planning process for the project?
  • Will the project expose these communities to disproportionate adverse environmental or human health conditions? Keep in mind that such communities may have greater vulnerabilities due to health disparities.
  • How can the adverse impacts be mitigated? Continue to engage the affected community when making decisions about mitigating the impacts or moving the project to another location.

Effective communication and outreach are vital to adequately engaging low-income and minority persons and communities. Proper engagement with local community groups and grassroots institutions ensures a more equitable outreach process on a newly proposed project. Groundwork USA developed a guide, Best Practices for Meaningful Community Engagement, outlining optimal outreach techniques. The community engagement practices in this guide should be referenced to assist the review preparer in identifying existing or anticipated environmental justice implications. Engaging with local community groups and grassroots institutions will help the review preparer answer the informative questions listed in the Important Considerations section.

Before assessing the environmental justice impact of a project, the reviewer should identify the existing community or communities in the project’s estimated surrounding impact area. For example, an infill demolition and redevelopment project should consult current residents at or near the project site, utilizing the meaningful engagement practices outlined in Best Practices for Meaningful Community Engagement. The review preparer should also consider any neighboring populations this project could serve or underserved populations within the community that should be considered for the new housing. This identification should include communities outside the project’s immediate proximity that may still be impacted, such as a community downstream of new point source pollution.

Mitigation Measures

Promising Practices for Environmental Justice (EJ) Methodologies in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Reviews, a report produced by the NEPA Committee, compiles best practices for including robust environmental justice consideration into federal NEPA reviews. The report underscores the importance of meaningful engagement efforts, finding these efforts are most effective when initiated early and conducted, as appropriate, throughout each step of the NEPA process. The Promising Practices Report goes on to describe guiding principles and specific steps, which can be utilized to assess environmental justice.

Reviewers should familiarize themselves with existing federal, state, local, and/or tribal environmental justice regulations relevant to the proposed project. The Compendium of State Regulatory Activities on Environmental Justice, published in October 2021, lists existing environmental justice initiatives and regulations in all 50 states, DC, and all U.S. territories. This resource will be updated periodically by Integral, the publisher. Additional research is recommended to identify any unlisted initiatives or regulations. Reviews may also consider relevant civil rights laws.