The U.S. Department of Transportation (Department) published a revised Environmental Justice Strategy on September 30, 2011, and conducted public outreach on the proposed revisions through December 22, 2011. Public input was received through a variety of channels, including a public roundtable meeting, webinars, an online dialogue site in which participants could leave comments and respond to other participants, as well as a dedicated email address for receiving formal comments. These comments have been analyzed for potential inclusion in the final Environmental Justice Strategy. Some respondents recommended actions that would extend beyond the Department's statutory authority or referred to specific implementation ideas that are not appropriate in an overarching strategy. Those comments are addressed in this response.
In general, respondents supported the revisions which were designed to reaffirm the Department's commitment to environmental justice. Given the multiple transportation operating administrations (OAs) housed within the Department and the different requirements associated with each of those OAs, the revised strategy intends to harmonize environmental justice policies and requirements to the extent feasible given the differing requirements. The strategy directs the relevant OAs to develop further guidance to clarify the way environmental justice is considered within their programs, policies, and activities. Several comments requested greater consistency and uniformity of definitions between the relevant OAs, including a single methodology for evaluating environmental justice concerns for all OAs. Yet other comments suggested a greater need for OA-specific strategies. The Department remains committed to an approach that balances these requirements, with the Department's Environmental Justice working group dedicated to ensuring consistency in definitions and approach.
While some comments indicated the need for consistent principles, many also urged considerations of local context in implementation through a place-based approach that would work with local community leaders to develop an appropriate and effective outreach plan.The Department already promotes place-based approaches; as indicated in the strategy, the Department "recogniz[es] that community leaders are ideally positioned to champion the public engagement process." The Department has included further language encouraging coordination with local leaders and stakeholders. The Department has published guidance on engaging populations with Limited English Proficiency and will continue to develop tools to support place-based outreach plans.
Several respondents requested that environmental justice requirements be added to funding decisions and grant recipients, or that additional privileges be granted to the public. The Department encourages local collaboration, including considering environmental justice principles in the funding and development of projects by recipients to ensure that projects capture the unique needs of local communities. However, local governments and grant recipients remain responsible for specific funding decisions and the processes that guide them.
Some respondents also requested that environmental justice considerations be added as a criterion for funding decisions or that funding be set aside for environmental justice communities. Additionally, some respondents requested that members of the public have the right to file administrative complaints for failure to address environmental justice concerns, or to be eligible for compensation. However, the Department is limited by law in the way funding formula decisions are made. Similarly, these laws limit the public's ability to file suit for wrong-doing and receive compensation. Further, Executive Order 12898 and the Department's EJ Order both specify that they are limited to improving internal management and do not create new rights. Respondents also suggested that each grant recipient conduct a transportation needs assessment of their community as well as an equity analysis of their funding decisions. The Department supports the goal of comprehensive and equitable planning, and as it implements this strategy the Department will consider developing or improving the guidance and training for grantees that enable them to better analyze these considerations.
Numerous suggestions were submitted that will be valuable as the Department implements this strategy, including many comments regarding tools for achieving environmental justice and the importance of public outreach. While an overarching strategy is not the appropriate forum for a discussion of specific tools, the Department will make available through its public web site tools currently available for use as well as ideas for new tools and training.
The Department agrees on the significance of effective public outreach, as reflected in this strategy. The Department's Environmental Justice working group is constantly working to improve the public engagement efforts made by the Department as well as by its State and local partners through training and guidance.
Several respondents asked the Department to strengthen the connection between environmental justice and livability, and to use the strategy to improve land-use decisions and reduce dependence on fossil fuel consumption. The Department strives to promote the concepts of livability and sustainability where feasible, encouraging the incorporation of the six livability principles into project planning and decision making. The Department supports these efforts through the livability initiative and the Partnership for Sustainable Communities as well as through an interagency work group on environmental justice within that partnership. Other respondents suggested removing references to social-justice considerations, such as transportation access to jobs; however, given the Department's transportation mission, it is appropriate to maintain that issue as a key focus area in the strategy.
Finally, several changes to the Department's 1997 Order on Environmental Justice were suggested, including clarification to the definition of disproportionately high and adverse effects, and consideration of cumulative impacts. The Department is currently considering these and other clarifying changes to the Order; any revisions that are proposed will be published with a notice in the Federal Register.