|II. Environmental Justice Scorecard Public Comment Period Extended
The Council on Environment Quality (CEQ) announced they have extended the deadline to provide public comment on the Environmental Justice Scorecard. The new deadline to give CEQ your input is November 3.
The Environmental Justice Scorecard is part of the Justice40 Initiative (established through Executive Order 14008: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad) and will measure and track the Administration’s efforts to address environmental injustices, as well as measure their progress towards meeting the Justice40 goal–ensuring that at least 40% of federal climate and clean energy investment benefits reach underserved and overburdened communities.
In the Request for Information (RFI), CEQ indicated there will be multiple iterations of the Scorecard with the first phase focusing on providing a baseline assessment of Federal Agencies’ current environmental justice efforts. This phase will focus on reporting Agency activity in the following three categories:
- Reducing harms and burdens borne disproportionately by communities– This category would measure the regulatory, enforcement, and other actions taken to reduce harms and environmental injustices.
- Delivering Justice40 related investment benefits– This category would measure the Administration’s progress on implementation of the Justice40 Initiative, among other environmental justice efforts.
- Undertaking institutional reform to center community voices in decision making– This category would capture measures taken to reform agency decision making to incorporate the perspectives, priorities, and lived experiences of environmental justice communities.
Within the RFI, CEQ has outlined several questions in which they are seeking community feedback. These questions focus on CEQ’s vision, framework, and engagement around the Environmental Justice Scorecard. To see a list of the questions, check out the full RFI here. You can also provide your feedback here.
When submitting your feedback, don’t forget to include the Agency Name–Council on Environmental Quality–and the Docket Number–CEQ-2022-0004–in your public comment. You should also know that all comments submitted will be posted publicly on regulations.gov without making changes so make sure you don’t include any information that you would like to be kept private.
To get a sense of how ECC will be responding to the RFI, check out our thoughts below.
Council on Environmental Quality–CEQ-2002-0004
VISION:The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) views the Environmental Justice (EJ) Scorecard as a robust and comprehensive assessment of the Federal Government’s efforts to address current and historic environmental injustice, including the Justice40 Initiative.
Does this vision reflect the needs and priorities of communities that face environmental injustices?
Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) agrees that the EJ Scorecard should be a robust and comprehensive assessment of the Administration’s environmental justice efforts, however the current vision statement is overly broad. The CEQ should be more intentional in articulating the purpose of the EJ Scorecard. The three reporting categories outlined in the RFI by CEQ–reducing harms and burdens of EJ communities, delivering on Justice40, and centering community voices in decision making–are overarching themes that should be the foundation for the EJ scorecard throughout its existence and, as such, should be incorporated within CEQ’s vision statement for the EJ Scorecard.
FRAMEWORK: In reference to the three reporting categories highlighted in phase one—
- Do these categories broadly reflect the needs, priorities, and impacts that communities are facing from environmental injustices?
ECC agrees that centering community voices, reducing the disproportionate harms burdening environmental justice communities, and delivering on the Administration’s Justice40 goal are necessary first steps that CEQ should be taking in this first iteration of the EJ Scorecard; however, this starting point should not be the stopping point as it relates to measuring and advancing these three categories. ECC believes that CEQ should build upon these categories to ensure future iterations of the EJ Scorecard continue to push the Administration to remedy the environmental harms disproportionately felt by Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.
CEQ should do the following:
- Reducing harms and burdens borne disproportionately by communities–Once CEQ has established a baseline for regulatory, enforcement, and other actions to reduce environmental injustices, CEQ should create and publish an Action Plan detailing how the Administration will improve upon its baseline measurements. This Action Plan should be created in collaboration with (and not just consultation with) the necessary Agency Officials to ensure Agency buy-in, as well as the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) to ensure environmental justice advocates have a say in naming tangible action steps that will lead to direct community benefits. Once the Action Plan is published, the EJ Scorecard should clearly depict each element of the Action Plan and chart Agency progress towards achieving each of the Action Plan goals.
- Delivering Justice40-related investment benefits–Once CEQ understands where each Agency stands in meeting (and hopefully exceeding) the goal of ensuring that at least 40% of federal climate and clean infrastructure investments are benefiting disadvantaged communities, the EJ Scorecard should identify where Agencies are in meeting the Justice40 goal and work with them to implement measures to increase their progress. These measures can include similar steps taken for the Justice40 Pilot Program that was designed to maximize benefits to disadvantaged communities. These steps included identifying which Agency pilot programs lacked engagement from underserved and overburdened communities, identifying barriers or constraints these communities faced when attempting to engage with these programs, and working to alleviate those barriers and constraints to ensure program participation by disadvantaged community members.
To ensure transparency in this process, future iterations of the EJ Scorecard should clearly reflect which Agencies are not achieving the 40% goal, identify the steps the Agencies are taking to meet the Justice40 initiative, and chart their progress towards meeting the Justice40 goal. Further, for the Agencies that are complying with Justice40, the EJ Scorecard should name these Agencies, include the exact percentage of program benefits flowing into disadvantaged communities, and provide an explanation as to how that percentage was calculated.
The EJ Scorecard should take the additional step in its quantification of Justice-40 related benefits to categorize said benefits, such as to make a distinction between direct financial investments, workforce development, leveraged funding, etc. Categorizing the Justice40-related benefits will allow Agencies to track benefits to disadvantaged communities and provide early intervention if results indicate a propensity toward one type of benefit.
- Undertaking institutional reform to center community voices in decision making–Once CEQ has used the first iteration of the EJ Scorecard to identify Agency processes for including community voice in its decision-making processes, CEQ should not only publish these processes on the EJ Scorecard but should require each Agency to vet their decision-making processes with environmental, frontline, and BIPOC communities. This engagement should take place in multiple formats to maximize community engagement. These formats could include, but should not limited to, listening sessions with the WHEJAC, public RFIs, online engagement sessions with ample opportunity for questions, and targeted discussion sessions with, and within, environmental, frontline, and BIPOC communities that include providing resources to community members to ensure they can both attend and engage meaningfully. The goal of each of these sessions should be to educate communities on the Agency decision-making process and how they center community voice within that process, allow ample time for community members to provide feedback to the Agency Officials on how they can better center community voice and their needs, and give community members an opportunity to educate the Agencies on their community priorities and what program benefits they need.
At the conclusion of this process, Agencies should take the feedback they receive from environmental, frontline, and BIPOC communities, update their decision making processes to reflect all community voices, and publish their updated processes on the EJ Scorecard, illustrating how they centered/incorporated feedback from communities. Further, Agencies should require Justice40 covered program funding recipients to engage in the same processes to ensure funding recipients are centering community voice and community needs as they are developing and implementing federally funded projects and programs.
- For the first version of the Environmental Justice Scorecard, what processes and markers of progress should be reflected in each of these categories?
As it relates to Justice40, the EJ Scorecard should clearly depict which Agencies (with Justice40 covered programs) are meeting the Justice40 goal and which Agencies are not ensuring 40% of their climate and clean infrastructure investment benefits are reaching disadvantaged communities. he EJ Scorecard should also ensure that each Agency provides the percentage of their program benefits and investments that are reaching disadvantaged communities. This percentage should be accompanied with an explanation of how the percentage was calculated, as well as how the Agency defines a disadvantaged community. Further, if Agencies are not in compliance with the Justice40 initiative, the EJ Scorecard should reflect what tangible actions the Agency is taking to increase the flow of benefits to disadvantaged communities. Data on Justice40 investments, Agency programs and benefits should also be regularly collected, monitored and updated publicly on an accessible and easily navigable platform, so communities can access and interact with real time information.
As it relates to centering community voices, the EJ Scorecard should provide a way to access each of the Agencies’ policies or procedures for centering community voice in their decision-making. These policies and procedures should include how Agencies educate local communities about decision-making that will impact their community, what opportunities community members have to provide feedback and voice their concerns to the Agencies, and how the Agencies will incorporate and implement the communities’ concerns into their final decision-making. It should also be named if Agencies lack this type of policy and procedure. If an Agency does not have a policy or procedure in place to incorporate community voice into their decision-making, the EJ Scorecard should reflect what steps the Agency is taking to create and implement a policy or procedure for centering community voices.
For reducing environmental harms and burdens, the EJ Scorecard should outline which regulations each Agency is charged with enforcing and provide an overview of how each regulation is enforced and violators are held accountable. This overview should include any timelines for regulatory reviews or inspections and who community members should contact if they know of any regulatory violations. The EJ Scorecard should also reflect ongoing investigations that could impact community members and provide a contact for where community members can go for more information.
- In the long term, what are the desired outcomes that could be included in each of these categories?
It is important that the EJ Scorecard be a tool for transparency and accountability. This means that the Administration must be transparent with its progress in order for communities, and the Agency itself, to hold the Agency accountable.
For each of these categories, communities need to see the Administration making real progress toward remedying past harms and, if progress is minimal or stagnant, the EJ Scorecard should clearly depict how the Administration is addressing its shortcomings. Desired outcomes that could be measured within these categories should include, but are not limited to:
- Increase in community participation and leadership in the development and implementation of federally funded programs and projects
- Increase in workforce and contractor development opportunities that target disadvantaged communities
- Increase in participation of Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises in federally funded projects
- Increase in investments in environmental justice communities
- Increase in community benefit agreements that include community-named benefits
- Increase in direct engagement between Agency Officials and environmental justice/frontline/BIPOC communities
- Increase in anti-displacement policies to ensure environmental justice communities are not further harmed by remediation
ENGAGEMENT: Recommendations on how to improve engagement with, and around, the Environmental Justice Scorecard. In particular—
- What are ways to improve sharing information about the Environmental Justice Scorecard?
Information sharing around the EJ Scorecard should consist of multiple formats to ensure the maximum amount of community engagement and buy-in. These formats should include, but are not limited to, education and listening sessions with the WHEJAC, online engagement sessions with ample opportunity for questions, and targeted discussion sessions with, and within, environmental justice/frontline/BIPOC communities that include providing resources to community members to ensure they can both attend and engage meaningfully.
The EJ Scorecard results should be shared via a regularly updated and publicly accessible website and/or virtual portal that showcases Agency progress in a visually appealing and easily understandable format. Any type of engagement should also be provided in natural languages to ensure all community members have access to the information and engagement sessions.
- What are some usability and accessibility features that should be considered for an online platform?
An online platform should include multiple translations to meet the needs of all community members, as well as alternative text options for those that are blind or visually impaired. In addition, the platform should also use simple language options and avoid using acronyms. The online platform should be beta tested to ensure the platform is user friendly and addresses potential barriers to engagement, as defined by communities. This could look like creating a committee of grassroots and frontline community groups to be paid consultants to do the beta testing to ensure accessibility and usability.
There should also be reliable contact information for a point person to help someone that needs help navigating the online platform or finding information that should be on the EJ Scorecard. The platform could include a FAQ section and a real-time chatbot for immediate support.
Data and information should be dated to show when it was collected.
Pueblo Planning, a social justice participatory planning and design firm, created a toolkit for considerations when using an online platform to be accessible and inclusive. These are some questions to consider:
- Is the platform compatible with assistive technologies used by disabled persons?
- Does the platform allow for computer or phone viewing?
- How are you informing people, especially most impacted, that the tool exists and how it can be used? This could look like webinars, newsletters, social media, etc.
- Are there ways for users to provide feedback on engagement with the online platform after it has been created?
ADDITIONAL FEEDBACK: Please provide additional feedback on the vision, framework, and outcomes of the Environmental Justice Scorecard. Feedback on the vision for the first version, and on future versions, is welcome.
It’s of the utmost importance that the EJ Scorecard be a tool for transparency and accountability which must begin with trust in the Scorecard’s accuracy. To ensure trust in the EJ Scorecard, CEQ should work with each Agencies’ Office of Inspector General to collect and provide the Agencies’ data for the EJ Scorecard. Given the independent nature of the Inspector General, having an independent source verify the veracity of the Agencies’ information will ensure communities can feel confident in the EJ Scorecard’s results. CEQ should also update the online platform consistently and regularly to provide the public with the most up-to-date information as possible.