Missing from White House EJ Screening Tool: Race
The White House Council on Environmental Quality briefly released a draft version of an upcoming tool to identify communities that would benefit from President Biden’s flagship environmental justice initiative — and race was not. a postman.
Last night E&E News got a preview of the beta version of the climate and economic justice screening tool before access was cut off. A journalist was able to take screenshots of the tool and upload their methodology, linked here.
The tool, which POLITICO first reported on, is being developed by CEQ and the US Digital Service with input from members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council – a group of outside experts on the role of race in the unequal exposure to environmental damage and underinvestment. .
The screening tool will identify and define “disadvantaged communities” that would benefit from Biden’s Justice40 pledge – which promises that historically underserved communities, most of which are communities of color, will see 40% of the benefits of health care spending. climate and clean energy.
But the tool that CEQ released briefly bypasses the race entirely, opting instead to identify “disadvantaged” communities by their environmental, economic and investment characteristics, rather than their demographics.
For example, a census tract that ranks in the top 10 percentiles for projected climate change-related agricultural or real estate losses and is below a certain income threshold would qualify. So would an area – a subdivision of a county with a population of about 4,000 – that is in the upper 90th percentile for proximity to hazardous waste facilities or for sewage discharge, if they meet the same income criteria.
But the concentration of residents in communities of color is not a factor.
CEQ President Brenda Mallory said The New York Times that the goal was to establish a framework and tool that would survive legal challenges “and still relate to the impacts on the ground that people experience”.
“I think we can do it based on race-neutral criteria,” Mallory said.
CEQ told E&ENews in a statement that the tool would be “continuously updated and refined based on feedback and research”.
“We know there’s a lot of work to do and we’re working as fast as we can to get it right,” a spokesperson said.
“Without a doubt, race and racism are factors that have contributed to the concentration of pollution in this country and the determination of communities that have been left behind by government investment, enforcement and aid. “said the spokesperson. “The environmental and socio-economic data we use in the tool, showing which communities bear a disproportionate share of environmental burdens and climate risks, will reflect this reality and this legacy of injustice.”
But Sacoby Wilson, an environmental justice mapping expert at the University of Maryland and architect of the Maryland Environmental Justice Mapping Tool, disagreed.
A tool that doesn’t explicitly consider race, he said, risks missing out on moderate-income communities of color who have nonetheless suffered disproportionate impacts from pollution due to a history of decisions land-use racists – and bear the public health scars to come with it.
“They’re not actually basing this decision on science,” he said. “All of the studies that have been done over the past 30 years have shown that race is the biggest and most important predictor of the distribution of environmental risk. More important than income.
If CEQ wants to choose a yardstick other than the percentage of residents in communities of color, he said, it could look at the concentration of high-polluting facilities like landfills or power plants in minority neighborhoods across the country. compared to those located in predominantly white areas. , and use this ratio in the tool. Or it could incorporate data on historic redlining, which pushed nonwhite residents and high-polluting settlements into the same neighborhoods during the 20th century.
Wilson said the federal government has made progress in addressing racial disparities in health outcomes — seemingly without undue legal risk. Health agencies have targeted racial inequalities in asthma rates or childbirth outcomes, for example.
“We’re not doing a good job as a nation of addressing burden disparities, exposure disparities, and risk disparities,” he said.