Environmental justice can mean different things based on an individual’s values and perception of what is just. However, the State of Michigan defines environmental justice (EJ) as “the equitable treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, ability, or income and is critical to the development and application of laws, regulation, and policies that affect the environment, as well as the places people live, work, play, worship, and learn.” EJ initiatives are focused on addressing and reconciling the perceived disproportionate impacts of environmental policies on different communities. These concepts are increasingly integrated into public policy at the state and federal levels.
One of the most common approaches emerging to achieve EJ objectives is the development of environmental justice screening tools. These tools use data associated with specific geographical areas to generally identify places where EJ concerns may exist. For example, the State of Michigan recently released a draft version of the Michigan Environmental Justice Mapping and Screening Tool, known as MiEJScreen. This tool scores every census tract in the state of Michigan based on a formula weighing an array of environmental, health and socioeconomic indicators. Intended uses of this tool have not yet been fully identified, but may include allocating resources, influencing permitting decisions, guiding policy decisions, and prioritizing enforcement.
Thoughts to Consider
- What, if any, specific EJ issues might be identified in rural communities related to agriculture? What types of data might exist to support these considerations?
- Should states or the federal government create standards for considering EJ concepts? Should these be a legal part of permitting or enforcement processes?
- Is the use of EJ screening tools appropriate for guiding environmental policy? How should these models integrate agriculture and related industries?