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Environmental Justice: Federal Agencies Could Benefit from a Strategic Approach to Assess Progress


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Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our report on federal environmental justice efforts.1 Environmental justice seeks to address the disproportionately high distribution of health and environmental risks among low-income and minority communities by seeking their fair treatment and meaningful involvement in environmental policy.2 In 1994, Executive Order 12898 directed 11 federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.3 The executive order also directed the agencies to each establish an environmental justice strategy and create a working group of federal agencies to coordinate federal environmental justice efforts. In 2011, 16 federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreeing to participate in federal efforts in this area as members of the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice and to issue annual progress reports on their efforts.4 However, research continues to indicate a nationwide problem concerning how environmental and health risks disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities. For example, a 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that minority and low-income communities in most states and counties across the country are disproportionately exposed to facilities that emit harmful air pollution (e.g., industrial or waste disposal facilities).5 My statement today will focus on (1) actions the working group agencies have taken to address environmental justice issues related to their missions, (2) the agencies progress in identifying and addressing environmental justice issues related to their missions, and (3) interagency working group efforts to help agencies coordinate federal environmental justice efforts under the executive order.



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