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New White Paper Recommends Urgent Policy Actions to Address Climate Justice

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For decades, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities have been forced to bear the brunt of pollution, climate impacts, and environmental degradation. A new white paper from the National Wildlife Federation shows how environmental justice screening and mapping (EJSM) tools can be powerful allies in the fight for justice and equitable access to climate solutions by building understanding of where environmental and climate impacts occur. The paper includes specific recommendations on how to integrate these tools into policymaking to ensure a future where every American has access to clean air, water, and a safe outdoors.  

“More frequent and intense heat waves, worsening levels of air pollution, and severe flooding from climate-fueled storms are devastating for any community, but they can be especially detrimental when a community is already experiencing social, economic, and environmental stressors, and when a community has less voice and power in the political process,” said Dr. Sacoby Wilson, co-author of the paper. Wilson is director of the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health lab at the University of Maryland, and a national expert on environmental justice and geospatial tools. “GIS tools help us understand the burdens frontline and fenceline communities face — and therefore help us advance climate equity and environmental justice. Seeing is believing. Properly investing in these tools, and using them to drive decision-making, is absolutely crucial if we want to create healthy, resilient, and equitable communities for all.”

“This work is especially timely, given the disproportionate impacts communities of color are facing from COVID-19, a public health and economic crisis that is compounded by climate change,” said Jessica Arriens, co-author of the paper and senior coordinator on the Federation’s Climate and Energy Program. “These tools aren’t a silver bullet to solve the myriad of complex, interrelated challenges these communities face — but they absolutely should be part of the solution.”

The white paper draws insights from existing environmental justice mapping tools, including EPA EJSCREEN, California’s CalEnviroScreen, and Maryland’s MD EJSCREEN. Wilson and his lab have led the development of MD EJSCREEN, along with other geospatial tools on climate equity and park equity in the state. The paper includes specific policy recommendations for federal and state decision-makers, to ensure geospatial tools are widely available, commonly used, and highly relevant. The recommendations include:  

  • Mandate that government agency decisions that may affect the environment or climate use EJSM tools. These decisions could include things like the development and implementation of laws and regulations and permitting of industrial facilities.
  • Infuse EJSM tools into COVID-19-related response and other stimulus spending. To maximize the effectiveness of each government dollar spent, and help address the moral failings of systemic racism, decisionmakers must ensure investments designed to help communities respond and recover from the pandemic are actually going to communities that need it the most.
  • Ensure community participation in the selection of EJSM indicators, design tools to be user-friendly, and provide access to and education about the tools.
  • Include climate and health indicators in EJSM tools.
  • Require states to develop, maintain, and use their own state-wide EJSM tools to be eligible for federal funding related to the environment or climate, including any federal assistance from EPA. The federal government should provide guidance to states on recommended indicators for inclusion in state EJSM tools, and offer federal technical assistance to states on things like data collection, analysis and maintenance.

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