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Environmental Justice FAQs

To view a set of frequently asked questions, select a topic and category based on your interest area. Perform a word search or choose a topic from the list.

Answer:

FTA will develop case studies to include on the FTA EJ webpage. In the meantime, FHWA has several cases for review here. FTA also encourages you to sign up with GovDelivery on the FTA EJ page to receive email notifications when new materials become available.

Answer:

FTA’s EJ circular defines low-income population as “any readily identifiable group of low-income persons who live in geographic proximity, and, if circumstances warrant, geographically dispersed or transient persons who will be similarly affected by a proposed DOT program, policy, or activity.” Environmental Justice considerations apply to transient populations (homeless, migrant workers legally working in the U.S., etc.), or dispersed populations (Native Americans). The transitory nature of a transient population makes it more difficult to collect and access reliable data about their presence and movement. In order to consider transient populations, who may also have limited English proficiency, be sure to consult a variety of resources such as planning offices, NGO service providers like churches, homeless shelters, medical clinics, and food banks, as well as local job centers and school districts. HUD also maintains a Homelessness Data Exchange.

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No. Environmental justice stems from an executive order from the President of the United States to Federal agencies and is intended to improve the internal management of the Federal government; therefore, it does not create legal rights enforceable by a party against the United States.

Answer:

For projects that FTA determines require an EJ analysis (i.e., those for which impacts rise above a certain threshold such that there is a potential for EJ impacts), a qualitative assessment alone is not sufficient to demonstrate that a proposed investment (strategy) would not have a disproportionately high and adverse impact. Any qualitative assessment should be accompanied by complementary quantitative analysis. No single analysis activity tells the entire story. FTA encourages grantees to use a variety of tools to develop a more realistic understanding of the benefits and burdens of the transportation system and any disproportionately high and adverse impacts on EJ populations. Data collection to get to know one’s community, to articulate needs and priorities, and to consider possible impacts should be corroborated through the public involvement process. Analytical tools are an important component for creating a baseline to work from, to inform decision-making, and to monitor progress over time.

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Yes. This is precisely the distinction that FTA makes in the Circular. While the minority or low-income population in an area may be small, this does not eliminate the possibility of a disproportionately high and adverse effect of a proposed action on the EJ population. Disproportionately high and adverse effects, not population size, are the bases for environmental justice.

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Principles of environmental justice should be reflected in existing policies, programs, procedures, processes, and accompanying documentation. FTA encourages grantees to pay special attention to low-income and minority populations and fully involve them in the regular activities of the MPO, State, or transit provider.

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Yes. EJ requirements apply regardless of the size of the community. There are no situations where EJ considerations do not apply based on population size.

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FHWA provides a few examples of EJ work related to project development in a rural locale in South Carolina and on tribal lands in Arizona. FHWA case studies can be found here.

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The Circular does not eliminate the use of “thresholds” for determining the presence of an EJ population. The Circular cautions grantees not to be too reliant on thresholds to serve as a “bright line” for identifying impacted populations. A very small minority or low-income population (statistically “insignificant”) in the project, study or planning area does not eliminate the possibility of a disproportionately high and adverse effect on these populations. For instance, you could have a project with a geographic unit of 20% EJ population, which may not trigger further analysis compared to a 35% regional EJ population. Disregarding that geographic unit could be short sighted because it is possible there could be a disproportionate impact on the 20% EJ population for a given factor. If you were strictly enforcing a 50% EJ population threshold, this area would have been missed. EJ determinations are ultimately based on effects, not on population size; therefore, it is important to consider the comparative impact of an action among different population groups. Furthermore, meaningful identification and public involvement of EJ populations is the core principle of an effective EJ analysis.

Answer:

No. FTA’s EJ Circular 4703.1, published in August 2012, does not introduce new requirements. FTA developed the Circular to clarify existing requirements, reiterate the importance of environmental justice considerations in transportation planning and project development, and to focus attention on examples of good practice.

Answer:

Determinations of benefits and burdens are based on the totality of the circumstances, both the burdens of the proposed action (e.g., short-term construction impacts) and its benefits (e.g., increased transportation options). One of the best ways to assess the totality of the circumstances is through a robust and inclusive public engagement program. Meaningful public engagement helps identify transit needs of EJ populations and a proposed project’s, or group of projects’, burdens and benefits. Grantees should be specific about the benefits of the project. Over emphasizing or providing too much weight to benefits such as “increasing property values,” “removing blight”, etc. are broad sweeping statements that are often not properly substantiated or might be perceived as benefits to some populations and burdens to others. Therefore, if these types of benefits are raised, please be aware that the adverse effect of such growth on low-income populations may need to be addressed.

Answer:

Census data provides mean information on household characteristics such as income and race at a variety of geographic levels: census tract, block group, and block level. The decennial census is published every ten years. The American Community Survey is published annually, based on a smaller set of the population. Census data provides a geo-spatial understanding of the community. It is helpful to be familiar with Census data across multiple years in order to identify trends in the community. Whenever possible, attaining data at the block group level is recommended. Census data are used primarily for statistical purposes, for example, to produce statistics on the percentage of those living in poverty. Thresholds like the HHS poverty guidelines are primarily used for administrative purposes such as determining whether a person or family is financially eligible to receive assistance or other services under particular federal, state, or local government programs. In the context of an environmental justice analysis, Census data will help identify the population living in certain geographic area that may be considered “low income” or “minority” – geo-spatially identifying areas where environmental justice populations could be located. HHS poverty guidelines will help determine whether the community's median household income is at or below HHS poverty guideline, thereby qualifying the population as “low-income” under FTA’s program definition.

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An EJ impact on a long range plan could become apparent through public engagement and distributional analysis. Some impact areas to consider at the regional planning level include: access to the transportation system, multi-modal options, transportation affordability, noise and vibration, air pollution, impacts to housing availability, affordability, and services in the area, etc. Keep in mind that the defining element of an “EJ impact” is 1) whether there is an impact, and 2) whether that impact disproportionately impacts those who are low-income and / or minority.

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Long range plans and public participation plans, should clearly demonstrate how the needs and concerns of the EJ community are incorporated into the planning process and its products from visioning to project development and operations. Agencies should use public involvement to clearly demonstrate that they understand the needs of the community and reflect those needs and concerns throughout the planning process. Planning agencies should engage the public and enhance their analytical capabilities to identify current and projected transportation patterns of low-income and minority populations and ensure that they address any concerns related to the public transportation requirements for such communities.

Answer:

FTA suggests a variety of options for integrating EJ considerations into existing programs, planning and project development processes, including:

  1. Ensuring that the level and quality of public transportation service is provided in a non-discriminatory manner: for example, when considering transit routes and service options, grantees should take into account the challenges faced by low-income and minority households who are dependent on transit for accessing employment and other services.
  2. Promoting full and fair participation in transportation decision-making without regard to race, color, national origin or income: for example, grantees should (and MPOs must) be able to demonstrate how they seek out and consider the needs of those traditionally underserved by existing transportation systems and should periodically review the effectiveness of the procedures, strategies, and desired outcomes contained in their public participation plan to ensure a full and open participation process, which considers the needs of low-income and minority households.
  3. Ensuring meaningful access to public transportation-related programs and activities by persons with limited English proficiency: for example, grantees can prepare additional literature in the languages which are predominant in their regions.
Answer:

There is no single way to define or quantify the benefits and burdens of a long range plan or TIP. Each community should look to visioning, long range planning, TIP development, and the public participation plan as opportunities to collaboratively define and then implement community priorities regarding environmental justice. For this reason, extensive public involvement is the center piece of the planning process. Benefits and burdens should be locally determined in collaboration with the low-income and minority population in any given community. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. FTA’s and FHWA’s shared planning regulation specifically requires grantees to develop explicit procedures, strategies, and desired outcomes for public involvement, make special efforts to engage members of low-income and minority communities, and periodically evaluate the effectiveness of that engagement from visioning to project development and operations. The fundamental objective of public engagement programs is to ensure that the concerns and issues of everyone with a stake in transportation decisions are identified and addressed in the development of the policies, programs, and projects being proposed in their communities. For many of grantees, engaging EJ populations in the transportation decision-making process is a standard part of their overall public engagement plan that is integrated throughout the process, from the earliest stages (long-range planning, visioning, and scenario planning) through project implementation (construction, operation, and on-going evaluation).

Answer:

It is advisable that when a transportation program, plan or project threatens the quality of human health, the grantee should consider reaching out to the local governmental health agency in understanding the need for further investigation. For more information on efforts to account for health in transportation, please see DOT’s “Health in Transportation” web page, hosted by FHWA. To identify public health professionals working in a community, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local Public Health Departments from the National Association of County and City Health Officials for state Public Health Departments.

Answer:

A Community Impact Assessment (CIA) is a stand-alone document that aggregates pieces of information about a community (demographics, economy, environment, equity, health, mobility, etc.) and presents a profile of that community. Planning practitioners and transit agencies can consult the CIA and pull information from it to inform planning and project level analyses. When available, grantees can use a CIA as part of transportation planning process and in the project level NEPA studies, as long as there is a verified source for the CIA. Practitioners are cautioned to review the different data sources during the transportation planning and project development phases to ensure consistency among the many different planning and project development documents.

Answer:

The EJ community definitions apply to the residential population, as well as to workers (including seasonal workers), students, patients, and other individuals who are part of the community that would be affected by a given plan, program, policy, or project.

Answer:

For locally funded projects which do not require a NEPA analysis, a project-level EJ analysis is not performed. However, It is imperative that any recipient of FTA funding consult FTA Circular 4702.1B to ensure that the undertaken project complies with the necessary Title VI guidance, as the project may trigger specific Title VI requirements. In general, FTA encourages an inclusive and thorough planning and project development process to yield the best outcomes for all interested and affected parties. FTA urges caution in electing to implement projects outside of the broader transportation planning process for this reason and because failure to include a project in the transportation planning process precludes it from utilizing future federal funding.

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