The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) are partnering on the development of an “Environmental Justice Map” (CT EJ Map) to identify vulnerable populations that may be disproportionately impacted by programs, policies, or projects and to inform initiatives for creating healthy communities.
Following examples from Washington, Maryland, and California, this map will fulfill a key recommendation for the Governor's Council on Climate Change Equity & Environmental Justice Working Group. (Learn more about the project background.) The purpose of this map is to identify vulnerable populations that may be disproportionately impacted by programs, policies, or projects and to inform initiatives for creating healthy communities. This project aims to build a community-state partnership to represent environmental and demographic indicators spatially, using deep community engagement and existing data efforts underway across the state. Once completed, this environmental justice screening tool can inform decision-making across state and local programs.
To build the EJ Mapping tool, the work will be divided into three parts.
- Preparation of the Initial Environmental Justice Map Viewer will include collecting Geographic Information Systems (GIS) source layer data across major indicators, reviewing data for quality and comprehensiveness, and establishing protocols for updating and maintenance of the data with support from the State Data Advisory Committee (SDAC). [Check out ESRI's What is GIS? website to learn more about the mapping process and software.]
- The Community Feedback Process will include an EJ Mapping Tool Advisory Committee (MTAC), focus groups held throughout the state and tribal nations (in environmental justice communities, where possible), and public review of the draft maps.
- Creation of EJ Map Viewer 2.0 and Next Steps phase of the project will entail final meetings and discussions, revisions to the EJ Map Viewer, and the drafting and release of the final project report and launch of the EJ Map Viewer 2.0.
The US Environmental Protection Agency offers some important definitions that informs this work:
Environmental justice (EJ) is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.
Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.
Meaningful involvement means:
- People have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health;
- The public's contribution can influence the regulatory agency's decision;
- Community concerns will be considered in the decision making process; and
- Decision makers will seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.
The EPA developed EJScreen, which "is an environmental justice mapping and screening tool that provides EPA with a nationally consistent dataset and approach for combining environmental and demographic indicators. EJScreen users choose a geographic area; the tool then provides demographic and environmental information for that area. All of the EJScreen indicators are publicly-available data. EJScreen simply provides a way to display this information and includes a method for combining environmental and demographic indicators into EJ indexes." Learn more about how it was developed, it is used, and how it works at EPA's EJScreen website.
Governor Lamont’s Executive Order No. 3 expanded the scope and responsibilities of the GC3 to include recommending strategies to achieve both mitigation of carbon emissions and climate change adaptation and resilience, and to prioritize equity in doing so. Specifically, the group was charged with “prioritizing, integrating and advancing equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of climate change mitigation planning policies, specifically addressing disproportionate impacts of such strategies on environmental justice communities,” and providing an Adaptation and Resilience Plan with “recommended strategies to prioritize climate change adaptation efforts to protect vulnerable communities that may be disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.” This charge led to the creation of the Equity and Environmental Justice Working Group (EEJ) of the GC3, and a commitment on the part of all members of the GC3 to look at every recommendation through an equity lens.
In 2021, the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) issued its Phase 1 Report. The EEJ Working Group offered several priority actions for near-term implementation, including:
Develop, launch, maintain, and use a statewide environmental mapping tool that provides a visual representation of the spatial distribution of environmental and climate health vulnerabilities across Connecticut, taking into account the social determinants of health and utilizing indicators. Make recommendations for how the statewide environmental mapping tool could be codified and utilized in existing state programs, including the distribution of grant and bond funding. Launch a public-private interagency effort as part of the 2021 phase of the GC3 to develop the tool.
In 2020, working with the GC3 EEJ working group, students at Yale University produced the report "Scoping and Recommendations for the Development of a Connecticut Environmental Justice Mapping Tool" that reviewed environmental justice mapping efforts across the country. The authors included:
- Sara del Fierro, Master of Environmental Manatement, Yale School of the Environment
- Emily McInerney, Master’s Candidate, Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs
- Jenna Musco, Master’s Candidate, Yale School of the Environment
- Eli Swab, BS, Yale College, Cognitive Science and Global Affairs
- Max Teirstein, BS Candidate, Yale College, Political Science and Environmental Studies
Over the next two years, researchers at CIRCA, building off of the mapping indicators listed in the report above, will seek to build a community-state partnership through a combination of statistical spatial analysis and engagement with vulnerable communities across the state.
“I’m thrilled to be launching this critical project with our partners at CIRCA. Equity and environmental justice have been a major focus of the Lamont Administration, the GC3, and our work at DEEP, and this tool will provide indispensable information, informed by the very communities most disproportionately impacted by pollution and the changing climate, to better inform decisions and policy-making to address those disparities.” - CT DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes
CIRCA and DEEP Partnership
To accomplish this recommended action, DEEP has partnered with CIRCA to develop this tool. CIRCA’s Drs. Yaprak Onat and Joanna Wozniak-Brown will be the project managers.
“As a research institute, CIRCA regularly generates data based on scientific study. As we experience increasing impacts from climate change, amplified in some communities by historic and ongoing inequities, understanding the unfair burden on communities across the state in a measurable way will be one critical piece to inform decision-making and policy change,” said Wozniak-Brown. “This data will tell a story. That’s why we will be asking community organizations and Connecticut stakeholders to shape the process so the data can represent their lived experience. We are humbled and honored to serve the state in this capacity. - Dr. Joanna Wozniak-Brown, Assistant Director of Resilience Planning
“We are delighted to hear that DEEP contracted the University of Connecticut to develop an Environmental Justice Mapping Tool, as recommended by Equity and Environmental Justice Working Group of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change,” said Cruz. “For too long, communities of color in Connecticut have been at the center of some of the worst environmental contamination in our state. Few policy decision-makers are aware of the consequences of these contaminants on our children and ourselves. An environmental mapping tool can help recall and present the impact of these contaminates. And as we plan for the climate change adaptation and mitigation that is now inevitable, this tool will help us all to clearly visualize the areas of greatest need and plan with a greater sense of justice than in the past.” -Lee Cruz, Director of Community Outreach for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and Co-Chair of the GC3 Equity and EJ Working Group
To learn more about the project management structure, check out our Project Team website.