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Environmental Justice

EPA Research to Support Environmental Justice

What is the Goal of EPA's Environmental Justice Research?
How Are We Achieving This Goal?
What Environmental Justice Tools and Resources are Available?
What are EPA's Other Environmental Justice Efforts?

What is the Goal of EPA's Environmental Justice Research?
The goal of EPA's environmental justice research program is to provide the scientific foundation needed for informed EPA decision making on environmental justice issues. Research efforts focus on understanding and developing solutions to the human health and environmental issues facing overburdened communities in the United States. This research supports EPA in developing risk assessment tools for multiple stressors, and in applying the best available science to assess the potential for disproportionate environmental and human health impacts on vulnerable populations. These groups may include minority populations, low-income populations, indigenous populations, women of child-bearing age, infants, children, and adolescents.

"The plight of overburdened communities should be the stick by which EPA measures its success" - EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

How Are We Achieving This Goal?

The US EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) is leading the development of a draft Environmental Justice Cross-cutting Research Roadmap (EJ Roadmap), one of four ORD roadmaps (Nitrogen and Co-Pollutants, Children’s Environmental Health, Global Climate Change, and Environmental Justice) that examine high priority research issues cutting across ORD’s research programs. The purpose of the EJ Roadmap is to provide an overarching framework for EJ research in ORD, to promote integration across relevant ORD research programs, and to communicate ORD’s current research and strategic directions internally and externally with partners and public stakeholders. The document, which is in the early stages of development, is being prepared by ORD in consultation with representatives from other EPA offices, outside advisory groups and the public.

EPA's research supports Plan EJ 2014, which is the Agency's comprehensive environmental justice strategy. Plan EJ 2014 serves as a roadmap that will help the EPA integrate environmental justice into Agency programs, policies, and activities.

The three primary sections of the Plan are:
      • Cross-Agency focus areas
      • Tools Development
      • Program Initiatives
The Tools Development section includes a chapter devoted to Science Tools. EPA research is contributing to each of the five strategies in this chapter. For example, Strategy 2 includes, "Incorporate perspectives from community-based organizations and community leaders into EPA research agendas...". To advance this Strategy, EPA established a Research Workgroup under the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The charge to the Workgroup requests advice concerning EPA's research programs and the scientific foundation needed to address and prevent environmental inequities.

ORD research supports environmental justice through six integrated research programs. These programs address many topics relevant to the science issues associated with environmental justice concerns. In addition, the Agency's Risk Assessment Forum is engaged in efforts to advance the science of cumulative risk assessment.

Selected research-related activities include:
      • Leveraging partnerships with other federal agencies on issues of research to address health disparities.
      • Building and strengthening the technical capacity of community-based organizations and community environmental justice and health leaders.
      • Analyzing EPA's research portfolio to incorporate opportunities to examine cumulative impacts and look at measures of equity.
      • Supporting EPA’s environmental justice efforts through children's health research, cumulative risk assessments, community-based participatory research and building the capacity of Agency scientists in conducting research.

What Tools and Resources are Available?

Community- Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST) - A Geographic Information System (GIS) and resource access web tool for conducting cumulative human exposure and risk screening assessments, to help build sustainable and healthy communities. Web access to a Beta version of C-FERST is now available by request.

Tribal-Focused Environmental Risk and Sustainability Tool (Tribal-FERST) - A web-based geospatial decision support tool that will serve as a research framework and developmental platform to provide tribes easy access to best available human health and ecological science. Web access to a Beta version of Tribal-FERST is now available by request.

Cumulative Risk Assessment - An approach to investigate multiple chemical and non-chemical stressors faced by a community while working in partnership with the community to instill confidence and trust among the public.

Community Cumulative Assessment Tool (CCAT) - CCAT is a computerized, guided process that informs users of the steps involved in a cumulative risk assessment (CRA), such as problem formulation, conceptual model development, and the consideration of multiple stressors. CCAT clarifies relationships between stressors, sources, and health effects; highlights decision points in the cause-effect chain. A CCAT prototype is complete; a beta-test version will be available for limited stakeholder use, testing, and evaluation in early 2013.

What Are EPA's Other Environmental Justice Efforts?

EPA's Environmental Justice work includes cross-Agency collaboration with all program offices, regions, and partnerships with other federal agencies. The Agency has also hosted regional listening sessions to gather input from disproportionately impacted communities and populations. EPA is working to incorporate ideas and concerns from stakeholders and representatives in its decision making processes.

EPA is a member of the Federal Collaboration on Health Disparities, which facilitates better coordination of research needs on health disparities across the federal government.

The National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) manages a number of environmental justice extramural research activities through its Environmental Health and Society program.

The Agency manages the Center of Excellence in Disparities Research and Community Engagement (CEDREC) Environmental Health Disparities Research Core. This is a community-academic collaboration to advance and accelerate the development of trans-disciplinary environmental health disparities research and strengthen community capacity to address environmental health issues through education, research and policy. A total of ten grants have been awarded to support the Center of Excellence on Environment and Health Disparities.

EPA achieved a significant milestone in incorporating environmental justice into its rulemaking process when it issued the Interim Guidance on considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action in July 2010. This guidance calls upon Agency rule writers and decision makers to consider environmental justice throughout all phases of a rule's development – known as the Action Development Process - from the point of its inception through all the stages leading to the final regulatory decision. EPA is currently working to update this guidance.

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