HHS Involvement in Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice Activities
Region IV Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice Meeting; Birmingham, AL (August 4, 2014)
The Deputy Regional Health Administrator for OASH, Region IV, participated in a tour and meeting of the Southeast Regional Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice. The group is currently focused on addressing environmental degradation and health disparities in North Birmingham. Among the attendees were multiple federal, state, and local stakeholders. There were representative from the Department of Labor, Department of Transportation (DOT), HUD, Department of the Interior (DOI), EPA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Economic Development Administration. Also present were local community leaders, including the mayor, council members, City of Birmingham officials, and community stakeholders who provided an overview of the needs in North Birmingham.
The priorities cited were: 1) to improve access to healthy and affordable housing, 2) to improve access to neighborhood-oriented amenities and increase job opportunities for residents, and 3) to improve health outcomes. As a result, OASH Region IV, is now participating on the health and wellness team. The team is currently planning to conduct a health services assessment in North Birmingham to determine what issues and concerns exist regarding healthcare services, with the goal of improving health among environmental justice communities. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and HRSA are involved.
North Dakota Meeting; Bismarck, ND (September 4, 2014)
On September 4, 2014, the EJ IWG held a stakeholder meeting in Bismarck, ND at the civic center. The purpose of this meeting was to gather community perspective on various issues related to the environment, social issues, energy development, and housing. There were approximately 70 participants, including representatives from tribes and communities, as well as from state, local, regional, and federal entities. Since the reinvigoration of the EJ IWG, federal member agencies have held more than 25 stakeholder sessions. HHS participated in all of them.
Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice Subcommittees
- NEPA Committee
Background: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is designed to ensure that all communities and people across this nation are afforded an opportunity to live in a safe and healthy environment. NEPA requires federal agencies, before they act, to determine the environmental consequences of their proposed actions for the dual goals of informed agency decision-making and informed public participation. The federal actions subject to NEPA include, but are not limited to those undertaken by HHS, such as: adoption of official policy, programs, or plans; federal construction projects; plans to manage and develop federal lands; and federal approvals of non-federal activities such as grants, licenses, and permits. Additionally, NEPA gives communities the opportunity to access public information on and to participate in the agency decision-making process for these varied federal actions. The Presidential Memorandum accompanying Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, underscores the importance of procedures under NEPA to “focus Federal attention on the environmental and human health conditions in minority communities and low-income communities with the goal of achieving environmental justice.” Further, the Presidential Memorandum underscores public participation opportunities under NEPA, stating: “Each Federal agency shall provide opportunities for community input in the NEPA process, including identifying potential effects and mitigation measures in consultation with affected communities and improving the accessibility of meetings, crucial documents, and notices.”
NEPA Committee of the EJ IWG: HHS is participating on the NEPA Committee of the EJ IWG. The purpose of the NEPA Committee is to improve the effective, efficient, and consistent consideration of environmental justice in the NEPA process through sharing of promising practices and lessons learned developed by federal departments and agencies since Executive Order 12898 was signed in 1994. Thus, the NEPA Committee supports federal agency NEPA implementation precisely to “focus Federal attention on the environmental and human health conditions in minority communities and low-income communities with the goal of achieving environmental justice.”
Since it was established in May 2012 by the EJ IWG, the NEPA Committee has employed a robust and innovative process to fulfill its purpose. Co-chairs of the Committee and Subcommittees are from EPA, DOT, Department of Justice (DOJ), and HHS while working groups are chaired by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), DOE, and EPA. Further, there has been active participation by the Council on Environmental Quality, DHS, DOE, DOI (Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Fish and Wildlife Service), DOJ, DOT (Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration), HHS, HUD, USDA (APHIS, United States Forest Service), EPA (Office of Environmental Justice, Office of Federal Activities, and Regions), General Services Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of Veterans Affairs. Deliverables of the NEPA Committee include:
- Community of Practice: Monthly interagency meetings have established a vehicle for cross-agency training and dialogue for addressing complex issues through sharing of experiences and effective practices in addressing environmental justice in the NEPA process.
- Environmental Justice and NEPA Agency Resource Compendium: The compendium, available on the EJ IWG webpage, gathers publically available information from 20 federal agencies (e.g., regulations, orders, guidance, environmental justice strategic plans) on the intersection of environmental justice and NEPA into one place and hyperlinks them so that documents can be accessed easily. A select set of key references are also available on the EPA NEPA webpage.
- Promising Practices on Environmental Justice Methodologies in NEPA Reviews: The NEPA committee is drafting a compilation of promising practices which represents the results of research, analysis, and discussions by participants of the NEPA Committee concerning the interface of environmental justice considerations through NEPA processes. It represents the professional expertise of the NEPA Committee participants, and their collective thinking and thoughtful deliberation of information sources and is not formal agency guidance. The draft document will be presented to the Chair of the EJ IWG.
- National Training Product on Environmental Justice and NEPA: The NEPA Committee is drafting a National Training Product on Environmental Justice and NEPA. This training product is a companion to Environmental Justice Methodologies that provides history for NEPA and environmental justice, promising practices, and examples from federal agency NEPA reviews.
- Lexicon: the NEPA Committee is drafting a lexicon and compendium of key terms as used by federal agencies to consider environmental justice in NEPA reviews.
In conclusion, the NEPA Committee is providing federal departments and agencies with promising practices organized in a coordinated, functional framework as identified by NEPA practitioners across the federal family. This community of practice is working in a collaborative manner to address complex environmental justice issues in a timely manner. Ultimately, the NEPA Committee intends its efforts to provide the groundwork for a renewed and dynamic process to advance environmental justice principles through NEPA implementation.
- Climate Change Adaptation
The EJ IWG provided input to the President’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The Task Force provided recommendations to the President on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. The section on addressing the needs of vulnerable populations recognized that low-income, minority, and indigenous communities are more severely impacted by climate change. The Task Force recommended that agencies “develop guidance and tools that consider geographic, economic, and social contexts to help identify disproportionately vulnerable populations and those most at risk to the effects of climate change.”
The EJ IWG also provided guidance to Agency’s Senior Sustainability Officers to assist agencies in considering the impacts of climate change on minority and low-income communities. The guidance was offered in the spirit of Executive Order 13653 and Executive Order 12898 to ensure that agencies are appropriately considering environmental justice vulnerabilities in their Agency Adaptation Plans.
- Goods Movement Committee
The EJ IWG participated in the National Freight Advisory Council’s development of 81 recommendations for the National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP) that is being developed by DOT. The recommendations focus on a range of freight-related topics, from safety, security, infrastructure investment and permit streamlining, to environmental sustainability. The HHS primary focus was supporting the development of recommendations related to advanced air technologies, alternative fuels for the freight sector, and reducing environmental and human health impacts from first and last mile activities. Under MAP-21, the NFSP is due October 2015.
- Title VI Committee
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) prohibits race, color, and national origin discrimination by recipients of financial assistance from HHS. Environmental justice issues may be raised in programs and activities supported through federal financial assistance. In those circumstances, Title VI is an important tool for addressing those concerns. The HHS Office for Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing Title VI for the agency.
The mission of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is to improve the health and well-being of people across the nation; to ensure that people have equal access to and the opportunity to participate in and receive services from HHS programs without facing unlawful discrimination; and to protect the privacy and security of health information in accordance with applicable law.
Through investigations, voluntary dispute resolution, enforcement, technical assistance, policy development and information services, OCR will protect the civil rights of all individuals who are subject to discrimination in health and human services programs and protect the health information privacy rights of consumers.
HHS is committed to using its authority under Title VI to achieve the goals of Executive Order 12898.