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Environmental Justice Reference Guide

Executive Summary

This Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Environmental Justice (EJ) Reference Guide is a resource for FHWA staff to help them ensure compliance with EJ requirements. EJ at FHWA means identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse effects of the agency's programs, policies, and activities on minority[1] populations and low-income populations to achieve an equitable distribution of benefits and burdens. This also includes the full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities in the transportation decisionmaking process. This document does not establish any new requirements or replace any existing guidance. The FHWA EJ Workgroup, comprised of staff from different offices throughout the agency, collaboratively developed this reference guide.


In this document, the term "practitioner" refers to the agency staff directly conducting an activity or project, which in most cases will be FHWA funding recipients, such as State departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations. FHWA primarily serves in an oversight and advisory role.

The information in this document pertains to Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (Executive Order 12898), the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) EJ Order 5610.2(a), and the FHWA EJ Order 6640.23A. Although this document is primarily intended to build FHWA capacity and knowledge on EJ, some of the information in the document will be most relevant for the day-to-day responsibilities of State and local partners. This is because FHWA primarily serves in an oversight and advisory role on EJ and the agencies that receive FHWA funds are the ones that will directly conduct the activities described in this document. FHWA staff can use this document as a resource when fielding questions from funding recipients, and they can use it as a reference when providing technical assistance or reviewing documents. This document is relevant to various FHWA disciplines, such as planning, environment and civil rights. Many of the concepts cross disciplines, so FHWA staff will benefit from reading all of the sections, including those outside of their respective disciplines. This document is also available online for the general public.

In the context of transportation, effective and equitable decisionmaking depends on understanding and properly addressing the unique needs of different socio-economic groups. The USDOT Order 5610.2(a) requires the Department to consider EJ principles in all USDOT programs, policies, and activities. The USDOT EJ Strategy identifies three fundamental principles of EJ that guide USDOT actions:

This reference guide begins with a brief history of EJ, an explanation of its relationship to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), and a list of definitions. The document then presents techniques for conducting overarching activities related to EJ: data collection and analysis. By conducting these activities, FHWA funding recipients assess whether a proposed project, policy, or activity will have disproportionately high and adverse effects on minority or low-income populations.

The next sections of this document relate EJ principles to the phases of transportation project development: planning, environmental review, design, right-of-way (ROW), construction, and maintenance and operations. This includes a discussion of public involvement, another important overarching activity.

Subsequent sections of the document discuss strategies for incorporating EJ principles into various other aspects of transportation agencies' work, including: safety and consultations with the Governments of federally recognized Tribes. Next, the document describes the FHWA Title VI Program, which encompasses EJ and other nondiscrimination requirements. The final section describes other concepts relevant to EJ. Each section of the document includes a brief introduction, key questions, requirements relevant to EJ (if applicable), and recommended strategies for FHWA staff and partners to incorporate EJ principles.

[1] The FHWA Order and USDOT Order define a "minority" individual as a person who identifies with one or more of the following categories: (1) Black: a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa; (2) Hispanic or Latino: a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race; (3) Asian American: a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent; (4) American Indian and Alaskan Native: a person having origins in any of the original people of North America, South America (including Central America), and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition; or (5) Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

Updated: 4/1/2015
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