Why the Need for an EJT Tool Kit?
Environmental justice, even in the limited transportation sense, covers a fairly wide range of issues and concerns, and constitutes numerous layers of institutional process. Decisions that can affect the transportation accessibility or health of a population segment can be effected at the policy, planning, funding, construction or operations levels. To be meaningfully involved in the decision-making process means being aware of the timing and consequences of key steps, sufficient to actively take part and make an informed contribution. This is a tall order for the lay person, particularly those who are poor and less educated, which suggests a need for proactive help and support in order to effectively take part in the planning and decision-making process.
To date, despite many efforts that have been supported by federal transportation agencies, there does not appear to be comprehensive planning guidance available to agencies and practitioners who are tasked with addressing transportation-related environmental justice concerns. Without such a guide, practitioners have to chart their own path, facing the difficult task of wading through myriad studies dealing with particular aspects of EJ, and trying to divine best practice for their particular needs. Alternatively, they may minimize their background research and fashion their own approach, which may not be as comprehensive or objective as might be desired. In either case, not only is the practitioner left without practical guidance and an appreciation of the dimensions of the problem, but the key elements of a comprehensive EJ process likely would not be realized.
What is envisioned in this EJT Tool Kit is a family of procedures that will enable the user to:
· Better link the EJ community with the relevant steps in the process;
· Identify and use tools to better incorporate and evaluate EJ considerations in the planning process;
· Suggest appropriate performance indicators to provide planners, community representatives and decision-makers with better information on the consequences and tradeoffs when evaluating alternatives; and
· Establish an institutional structure with appropriate authority and expertise to ensure objective review and response to important EJ issues.
The completed EJT Tool Kit will take the form of a planning manual. Its function will be to provide knowledge and technical assistance, and it will not be a manual of regulatory guidance on EJT. Its use should provide clarity to practitioners on how to identify, understand and approach environmental justice issues at all levels. Like similar manuals, the EJT Tool Kit will first endeavor to quickly educate the user in the nature of the issues, orienting them to the key regulatory requirements guiding EJ, a synopsis of how the requirements have been responded to, characterization of good vs. deficient responses, and general instructions on how to use and benefit from the Tool Kit.
While the Tool Kit will be designed primarily to aid practitioners and their respective organizations in meeting EJT requirements in a proactive and creative manner, the Tool Kit should provide secondary benefits to other audiences, including community and advocacy groups, elected officials and decision-makers. The value of the Tool Kit to these groups will be primarily in how it directs the practitioners in conducting EJT reviews. If practitioners openly follow the steps in the Tool Kit – patterned after the EJT Framework – effects should be felt throughout the environment of communities and institutions that are involved with EJ. This will be in the form of more open and involving public processes, more incisive analyses, and performance information capable of supporting dialogue and action on complex issues and options.
Another important feature of the manual will be the case studies conducted in Baltimore, highlighting the entire process of how the issues were identified, articulated, brought to the attention of the Triage Committee, the analyses which were done, measures of effectiveness used, assessment of findings and development of recommendations for action. This collection of case studies can also be supplemented by subsequent applications in other urban areas, or from distilled archive examples.
A Framework for Addressing Environmental Justice Issues-Our proposed Environmental Justice in Transportation Tool Kit will be developed around a framework that defines the key steps and interconnections that are or should be involved in addressing EJT issues on a continuing regional scale. This framework, presented in schematic form in Figure 1, draws a focus on what we see as key elements in an EJT process. These elements consist of:
· Public Outreach and Involvement: An open and ongoing process through which active effort is made to sample and extract concerns from the EJ community, to inform them on key issues, and to provide feedback throughout and closure at the end of an EJT review on a particular issue.
· Triage Process: This is a unique institutional element which functions as the nerve center of the EJT process, serving as an independent Review Board which screens and conducts objective review of identified EJT concerns.
· Analytic Tools: Introduction to a range of Techniques and Procedures for evaluating EJT issues in the context of regional transportation plans or projects, scaled to the size and complexity of the particular concern.
· Evaluation Framework: Guidelines to the identification and use of relevant Performance Indicators to quantify EJT concerns, and their application in Tradeoff Analysis to support informed dialogue and decision making.
The framework anticipates that these individual functions are highly intertwined and iterative, where different analyses and measures may ensue depending on the stage of an evaluation, the level of controversy reached, or the level of clarity required. In this sense, the framework realistically depicts the dynamic and interactive environment in which EJT issues arise and are dealt with.
The EJT Triage Process- One of the primary innovations drafted into the EJT framework is the development of an institutional mechanism that is capable of dealing effectively with the range of issues and potential remedies surrounding environmental justice. Whereas the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) might be seen as the body with the logical regional representation, technical skills, and involvement in the transportation planning process to administer the EJT triage function, there are some concerns about the overall effectiveness of such a choice in all situations. A key concern would be that the questions raised by an EJT issue might extend beyond the purview, interest, or political will of a given MPO. In this case, were the EJT function subject to the protocols of the MPO, an impartial and comprehensive review of impacts or solutions might not be possible.
As an alternative, we are suggesting a Triage Committee that works closely with the MPO, and includes one or more representatives of the MPO, but which is independent of the potential constraints of the MPO. For example, if an issue also requires consideration of housing, or of funding decisions that are determined by the state, the MPO may be unable to act in a fully open manner for reasons of protocol or authority. The proposed EJT Triage Committee would have broad representation, including members of the MPO, transit agency, state or local departments of transportation, planning or economic and community development, environmental specialists, and organizations representing the affected community. What this group would do is review “cases” that have EJT characteristics, but for which standard channels of response have proven ineffective. By virtue of its wide representation of perspectives, the committee would be able to look at a given problem in all of its dimensions. It would then make recommendations – using guidance from the EJT Tool Kit — on how the problem should be investigated, and then assign responsibility for the investigation, either from among its membership or through use of outside specialists. Fact-finding could occur at multiple levels, as suggested by the framework, from simple detailed inquiries to the collection of data and application of analytic tools to quantify the impacts. Upon review of the findings, the committee would then offer a set of recommendations for resolution, presumably which would seek action from one or more of the committee members in relation to the mission of their organization. Members of this committee would be among the leaders in their organizations, to ensure adequate authority to speak for the organization and to make recommendations or enter into agreements on behalf of the organization. No separate compensation would be envisioned for committee members; rather, the respective organizations would be expected to contribute their time as they would in relation to other interagency commissions or task forces.
Phase II will allow us to test the structure and functioning of a Triage Committee. Members will be selected from the list of entities cited above, and they will perform a dual function during the course of the study. First, they will attempt to function as an actual review committee, seeking to conduct the types of discussions and investigations that would be expected in the course of an actual EJT review. The project study team will provide service to this committee, not only helping it get established and develop a working style, but furnishing it with the appropriate information to perform a review. In this manner, the committee will provide still another point of review for the feasibility of the framework, and will provide the project with a working model of how a Triage Committee would actually work. The Triage Committee could conceivably morph into the full time committee at the conclusion of the project, assuming the design parameters are working as hoped.
Effective Public Involvement-Phase I of BREJT began another important innovation of this project and the framework with the regional screening of EJT issues. While this would seem to be a “logical” step in gauging regional concern and interest on EJT issues, historically it has not occurred in most other EJT efforts. Rather, problems or concerns are dealt with as they come up, or EJ considerations are made part of the standard Title VI submission in project or service planning. As Phase I revealed, it is extremely important to proactively engage the community in these determinations, to make sure their perspectives and concerns are heard, and not simply based on the assumptions of third parties.
The public involvement envisioned for the Tool Kit will have several dimensions. In addition to a proactive and ongoing sampling of EJT issues from the community, the framework envisions that an enhanced and continuous program of education and information exchange will be maintained to make sure that affected populations are aware of planned or ongoing activities that are relevant to them and why and how they should get involved. Also, the framework stipulates a line of input and feedback in conjunction with formal review of EJT issues by the Triage Committee (represented by the multiple feedback loops in Figure 1). It is crucial that the public see formal response and closure to their concerns.
Analytic Aids- There are many analytic tools that can be employed in pursuit of an EJT evaluation. Effective guidance amounts to recommending an analytic approach that is not in excess of the information or accuracy need of the given issue. It is much more important the issue be properly framed and understood, and that the small set of appropriate measurement criteria be selected, than opting for the most sophisticated and data intensive software or models available.
That said, critical questions in an evaluation should never be limited because of the presumed difficulty of an analysis. An important aspect of environmental justice is assessing the geographical proximity of EJT populations to a particular transportation or pollution-related activity or event. For example, the Maryland Transit Administration recently proposed an overhaul of the Baltimore region’s bus system, but did not engage the level of analysis that would ascertain who would be affected by the changes and to what degree. The effect was a major public backlash, forcing the transit agency to retract its plan. In conducting its own regional review of the bus plan, BMC used its travel models to examine changes in transit service quality, travel time and accessibility, as well as using its GIS system to ascertain which communities would be most affected and their social and economic characteristics. The results showed that the changes were suboptimal for the region, and would hurt certain travel market segments more than others. Reporting of these results had an effect on the transit agency’s decision to revisit its plan.
Health vs. Accessibility as Environmental Justice Drivers- Environmental justice impacts, even in the restricted case of transportation-related impacts, still cover a wide range of social, economic and environmental concerns. The reference to “environmental justice” links back to the 1970’s when investigations confirmed clear instances of toxic waste dumps being located adjacent to low-income/minority communities in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South. Recognition of how broadly these examples of disequity were still occurring in spite of the Civil Rights Act inspired efforts to broaden the definition of environmental justice and strengthen implementation guidance. This movement reached a milestone in 1991 when the Environmental Leadership Summit defined environmental justice as extending beyond the focus on toxic exposure to such issues as public health, transportation, economic justice, land use, community empowerment, and neighborhood sovereignty. This positioning helped set the stage for issuance of President Clinton’s Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice in 1994.
Based on this history, environmental justice has come to be seen as more than only exposure to pollution, although health risks remain one of the most important concerns in an EJT evaluation According to the Healthy People 2010 report, there are many disparities in the occurrence of chronic diseases – such as asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular disease — between members of racial and ethnic minorities and more advantaged populations. Exposure to environmental chemicals can either cause or contribute to the development of these diseases, and a major source of many of these chemical exposures is vehicular in nature: cars, trucks, and buses. This comes about from people living in neighborhoods with high vehicular traffic or the presence of bus/truck depots next to residences, which are situations most often found in neighborhoods whose members are predominately minority and economically disadvantaged. In these circumstances, health disparity is clearly associated with environmental injustice. Solutions to addressing these relationships can come about by creating neighborhoods that are more environmentally friendly with regard to transportation.