Putting the Environment back in “Environmental Justice”: A Two-Dimensional Approach for Area Identification.
State-level environmental justice (EJ) policies typically define EJ areas based on community-level socioeconomic characteristics. Consequently, EJ area identification processes can miss overburdened communities by excluding environmental factors. President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 prioritizes the “fair treatment” and “meaningful involvement” of overburdened communities to address environmental and health disparities and achieve EJ. First, we review ten state-level EJ frameworks to understand how EJ areas are defined. Then, we introduce the EJ duality to address the lack of environmental factors in EJ area identification. This two-dimensional approach requires simultaneously assessing socioeconomic and environmental disparities to identify EJ areas. Finally, we use Chicago as a case study to demonstrate how the
one-dimensional classification of EJ communities can conceal communities facing environmental burdens, which may exacerbate environmental injustice. We recommend that state-level agencies adopt an efficient and equitable two-dimensional approach to achieve EJ priorities.