Another National EJ Tool – Environmental Justice Index
Posted: September 16th, 2022Authors: Wesley H.
On August 10, 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a nation-wide place-based Environmental Justice (EJ) tool: the Environmental Justice Index (EJI). This tool aims to quantify the impact of environmental burden on communities from the perspective of health equity, or “the state where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health”. In addition to environmental burdens, EJI also attempts to quantify the health impacts of pre-existing chronic conditions and social factors on communities.
EJI’s focus on health conditions and social factors in addition to environmental concerns sets it apart from other nation-wide EJ tools, such as the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Climate and Economic Justice Screening tool (CEJST) or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) EJSCREEN 2.0. For more information on these tools, read our article, Biden Administration Releases Two Environmental Justice Tools on the Same Day.
EJI also differs from other EJ tools in that it is the first federal tool to assign a single score EJ index at the census tract level. These subdivisions allow for the user to obtain social and health data in a pinpointed population of around 4,000 people. Each census tract around the nation is delivered a single score from EJI. This single score consists of data quantified from different indicators within the following modules:
- Environmental Burden Module – air pollution, potentially hazardous facilities, transportation infrastructure
- Social Vulnerability Module– race, ethnicity, socio-economic, housing
- Health Vulnerability Module – prevalence of pre-existing health conditions
Because the purpose of this tool is health equity, each indicator is quantified by being ranked against the rest of the U.S. The indicators are then combined into a single EJ score (the EJI) which aims to categorize the overall health impacts resulting from environmental burdens. The EJI of a given community is ranked against the rest of the US and is color-coded to demonstrate the cumulative impact of environmental factors. The intended use of this tool is for community health workers to identify the communities that are most at risk of health impacts from environmental burdens relative to other communities around the nation.
The scope of this tool is limited. The available documentation states that it is not designed to make definitive judgments on the environmental injustices within a given community and it should not be used to measure or quantify the risk of certain individuals within a community. However, because this tool is public, it can be used by non-governmental organizations to challenge permitting efforts within communities with a high EJI score in a manner similar to how these organizations might use other EJ tools. If you have concerns about the potential implications of this tool and you’d like to discuss them, feel free to contact myself or Rich Hamel. We are happy to help you navigate the current and future EJ policies and regulations or assist you in evaluating the potential EJ risk at your facility.