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HHS Involvement in Federal EJ IWG Activities

Community Engagement

Federal agencies will hold at least two listening sessions with communities to, among other things, evaluate the effectiveness of agency environmental justice strategies and seek recommendations on how agency efforts can be improved.

NEPA Committee

The NEPA Committee is improving the effectiveness, efficiency, and consistency of the NEPA process to enhance consideration of environmental justice through the sharing of best practices, lessons learned, training, and other tools. Since its inception in May 2012, the NEPA committee has taken several steps toward achieving its mission. Initially, an electronic compendium of publicly-available NEPA and environmental justice-related documents from almost 20 federal agencies is provided on the IWG website; key references from this Environmental Justice and NEPA Agency Resource Compendium are also included on EPA’s NEPA webpage. In addition, the NEPA Committee has conducted a cross-agency training series on existing tools, methods, and agency-specific focal areas. The Community of Practice Subcommittee is compiling a best practices approach that efficiently and effectively considers environmental justice in NEPA reviews. The Education Subcommittee has conducted a review of existing federal agency training materials on environmental justice and NEPA, and is using this assessment to produce a national NEPA training module on NEPA and environmental justice with the focus on effective environmental justice analysis in the NEPA process.

Moving forward, the Committee will continue to advance cross agency understanding of opportunities to advance environmental justice through increased understanding of challenges and opportunities, articulation of effective best practices, training on general and specific NEPA and environmental justice topics, and other measures. Altogether, these efforts will continue to provide federal officials, at all levels, with a foundational understanding of NEPA’s role in addressing environmental justice through assessment, consideration of alternatives, avoidance and mitigation during the NEPA review process.

Climate Change Adaptation

Across the U.S. and the world, climate change is already affecting communities, livelihoods, and the environment in significant ways. The impacts of climate change–including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, poor air quality, heavier downpours, increased flooding, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise–are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the nation. These impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges. Differing levels of vulnerability across countries, communities, and even households lead to uneven distribution of climate change impacts, with important implications for adaptive actions. In addition, non-climatic stressors can interact with and exacerbate the impacts of climate stressors. Social and economic factors (e.g., economic status, race, ethnicity, age, gender, and health) can significantly affect people’s exposure and sensitivity to climate change, as well as their ability to prepare and recover.

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced his plan to cut carbon pollution and prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change. The President’s Climate Action Plan calls upon federal agencies to “continue to identify innovative ways to help our most vulnerable communities prepare for and recover from impacts of climate change” through annual federal agency Environmental Justice Progress Reports. This focus on building capacity in low-income, minority and tribal communities for climate adaptation comes from a number of policy mandates from both the White House and individual agency leadership. These include:

On November 1, 2013, President Obama signed an Executive Order (EO), which called for the federal government to build on recent progress and pursue new strategies to improve the nation’s preparedness and resilience. The EO states that “adaptation measures should focus on helping the most vulnerable people and places reduce their exposure and sensitivity to climate change and improve their capacity to predict, prepare for, and avoid adverse impacts.”

In its 2010 Progress Report, the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, recommended actions in support of a national climate change adaptation strategy, and set forth among its guiding principles that agencies should “prioritize the vulnerable.” The report noted that adaptation plans should prioritize helping people, places, and infrastructure that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. These plans also should be designed and implemented with meaningful involvement from these same communities. Issues of inequality and environmental justice associated with climate change impacts and adaptation should be addressed.

To help address these issues, HHS is developing a sustainable climate-resilient healthcare infrastructure by creating a public-private partnership to develop tools and information related to resilience of healthcare facilities in a context of climate change-exacerbated stressors. In addition, the CDC is supporting a public health professional training effort based on CDC’s “Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE)” through its Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative. CDC will develop and disseminate best practices to assess and communicate climate change risks and resilience measure to ensure public health professionals, physicians, and clinical health care providers have the tools they need to prepare their communities for the health consequences of climate change.

Goods Movement Committee

The Goods Movement Committee assists agencies: reduce environmental and health effects of goods movement efforts on overburdened communities; and increase opportunities for overburdened communities to benefit from goods movement efforts. In 2013, the Goods Movement Committee focused on identifying federal programs, policies, and activities that are related to goods movement and impact overburdened communities; developing better partnerships with community groups; and identifying issues that most concern impacted communities. Moving forward, the committee will continue developing partnerships with communities and begin supporting the integration of environmental justice into specific agency efforts.

Title VI Committee

The Title VI Committee acts as a resource to help agencies connect their civil rights enforcement responsibilities with their efforts to achieve environmental justice. In 2013, the committee surveyed agencies to determine the extent to which Title VI complaints have included environmental justice issues, and evaluated the relationship between Title VI and environmental justice. Moving forward, the committee plans on posting a webpage on the EJ IWG website that articulates the interrelationship between Title VI and environmental justice and will identify opportunities for interagency collaboration.

Regional IWG Committee

The Regional Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice Committee (RIWG) responds to communities at the local and regional level. In 2013 the RIWG Committee finalized its concept to include its vision, goals, membership, organization, and key principles. This internal concept is designed to help guide the RIWG in the process of forming regional workgroups (designed around the EPA regional structure) and working with existing workgroups with the goal of better addressing issues, concerns, and recommendations that may result from public engagement at the local and regional levels, and to increase cooperation across federal agencies in support of Executive Order 12898. The committee’s goals, in part, is to help respond to environmental justice issues or concerns in a more timely and unified manner, help build community capacity, and leverage resources of federal agencies and where appropriate, with state, tribal and local agencies, as well as individual communities, the private sector and non-governmental organizations regarding environmental justice issues. The committee is moving forward with identifying and selecting cross-government collaborations to aid communities.


Back to 2014 Environmental Justice Implementation Progress Report

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH)
Content last reviewed on February 27, 2015