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Environmental Justice Strategy

U.S. Department of Transportation
Environmental Justice Strategy

November 15, 2016

I. Introduction

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT or the Department) is committed to ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system for communities nationwide. In doing so, DOT comprehensively incorporates environmental justice (EJ) considerations into all of the Department’s programs, policies, and activities. This EJ Strategy describes the Department’s framework for accomplishing this goal. By ensuring opportunities for minority and low-income communities to influence the transportation planning and decision-making processes through enhanced engagement and meaningful input, the Department actively prevents disproportionately high and adverse effects of transportation projects on minority and low-income communities.

A. Overview

“Environmental justice” is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, national origin, or educational level with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. For the purpose of this strategy, fair treatment means that no population, due to policy or economic disempowerment, is forced to bear a disproportionate burden of the negative human health and environmental impacts, including social and economic effects, resulting from transportation decisions, programs and policies made, implemented and enforced at the Federal, State, local or tribal level.

Executive Order (EO) 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (February 11, 1994), requires each Federal agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” The EO directs each Federal agency to develop an agency-wide EJ strategy to implement these requirements. DOT issued its original EJ Strategy in 1995.

In the Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898 (EJ MOU), signed by the Secretary of Transportation and the heads of other Federal agencies on August 4, 2011, DOT agreed to periodically review and update its EJ Strategy. The DOT revised its EJ Strategy in 2012, reaffirming DOT’s commitment to EJ principles and to integrating those principles into DOT programs, policies and activities.

The Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG), which provides leadership and direction to Federal agencies on efforts to address EJ, requested that DOT and all other participating agencies release updated EJ strategies in 2016.

This updated strategy reflects DOT’s ongoing commitment to promoting equity in programs, policies, and activities that affect human health and the environment, including economic and social conditions, consistent with all applicable planning and environmental statutes and regulations. DOT’s policy is to require that the goals of EJ are adhered to throughout all of its activities, including transportation planning and project development, and promote those goals through public outreach efforts conducted by the Department and its funding recipients.

The Department’s EJ commitment includes the recognition that infrastructure choices that are made at the Federal, State, and local levels can strengthen communities, create pathways to jobs, and improve the quality of life for individuals and communities across the country. By empowering communities to have a meaningful voice in transportation decisions, institutionalizing “best practices” internally and externally across DOT programs, and sharpening enforcement tools to ensure compliance, the Department ensures that EJ is an integral and effective part of all of its activities.

B. Guiding EJ Principles

DOT incorporates EJ and equity principles into all transportation planning and decision-making processes and project-specific environmental reviews.

The Department’s guiding EJ principles are briefly summarized as follows:

  • To ensure the full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities in the transportation decision-making process;
  • To avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority or low-income populations; and
  • To prevent the denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of benefits by minority or low-income populations.

II. Department-Wide Efforts on EJ

A. DOT Order

In 2012, the Department issued DOT Order 5610.2(a), Department of Transportation Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (DOT EJ Order), updating the original order issued in 1997. It sets forth procedures and guidance for the Department to implement EO 12898 and is of central importance to the continued implementation of EJ principles within DOT. The DOT EJ Order ensures a consistent approach toward achieving EJ within the Department and requires that all DOT Operating Administrations (OAs) fully consider and incorporate, as appropriate, EJ principles into existing programs, policies, and activities. The DOT EJ Order establishes the framework and procedures for identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects in minority and low-income populations. It also reaffirms DOT’s commitment to ensuring that equity is an integral part of DOT’s programs, policies, and activities. 

Executive Order 12898 and the accompanying Presidential Memorandum underscore the importance of using existing laws — including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 — to ensure that all persons live in a safe and healthy environment. Among other things, NEPA directs Federal agencies to consider how decisions affect people and their environment, and to assess the benefits and risks associated with proposed actions with the involvement of, and input from, the people and communities they affect. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. Consistent with Title VI and the EO, the DOT EJ Order emphasizes the importance of ensuring that programs or activities funded by DOT that affect human health or the environment do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin. DOT advances EJ through Title VI enforcement and compliance activities. The DOT EJ Order also emphasizes that EJ principles apply to planning and programming activities and that requirements, such as NEPA, be administered so as to identify the risk of disproportionately high and adverse effects early in the development of the program, policy, or activity so that positive corrective action can be taken.

The DOT EJ Order sets forth three core objectives.

First, it directs the Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) and relevant OAs to determine the most effective and efficient way of integrating the processes and objectives of the Order into existing regulations, policies, guidance, and operations.

Second, the DOT EJ Order sets forth guidance for determining whether a DOT program, policy, or activity or a DOT-funded program, policy, or activity (DOT action) is likely to have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority or low-income populations. The determination process includes providing timely and meaningful opportunities for participation and comment by representatives of potentially affected communities. The DOT EJ Order directs the Department to consider EJ objectives when administering the requirements of NEPA; Title VI and related statutes; the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended; planning statutes in Title 23, U.S. Code and Title 49, U.S. Code; and other statutes, regulations, and Executive Orders that address or affect transportation infrastructure planning and decision-making; social, economic or environmental matters; public health; or public involvement.

Third, the DOT EJ Order provides guidance on how to address disproportionately high and adverse effects, including implementation of mitigation measures and consideration of alternatives that would avoid or reduce the disproportionately high and adverse effects. These measures may include pollution prevention, health and safety measures, measures to maintain community cohesion and economic vitality, and mitigation and compensatory measures. This process includes procedures to provide meaningful opportunities for public involvement by minority and low-income populations, including input in identifying potential mitigation measures for DOT actions.

The DOT EJ Order also provides for data collection and research, as needed, to provide information to comply with EO 12898.

B. Implementation by the Operating Administrations

Each OA whose programs, policies, or activities may result in disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority or low-income populations will develop or update OA tools and documents on EJ, consistent with the DOT EJ Order. These OAs include, but are not limited to, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Maritime Administration (MARAD), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) (relevant OAs). The DOT EJ Working Group serves as a forum for coordination across the Department to determine the most effective and efficient way of integrating the processes and objectives of the strategy and the DOT EJ Order with existing regulations and guidance. 

DOT and all relevant OAs will also review research programs and activities to determine whether and how minority or low-income populations may be more appropriately included in the scope of particular research projects.

C. Public Outreach on Implementation of the EJ Strategy

Public engagement and participation in decision-making is a fundamental principle of EJ and is critical to achieving outcomes that reflect the needs of all affected stakeholders to the greatest extent feasible. Minority and low-income communities have historically borne disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of transportation infrastructure projects. Active and meaningful participation of all affected communities will help ensure that transportation plans and projects avoid, and when avoidance is not possible, minimize, or mitigate these impacts on minority and low-income populations. For this reason, DOT is committed to using public engagement to encourage and empower EJ populations to engage meaningfully in the planning and implementation of DOT programs, policies, and activities.

DOT is committed to engaging minority and low-income populations in the transportation decision-making process across all relevant OAs, from the earliest stages of planning through project implementation, including maintenance and operation, to ensure that affected communities are able to influence decision outcomes. Part of DOT’s outreach strategy includes building relationships with stakeholders, including State and local partners who help fund our transportation systems and those who serve underserved populations. Coordination with community leaders to develop locally appropriate outreach plans is critical, as those leaders are ideally positioned to champion the public engagement process and disseminate information to their constituents.

DOT continues to explore additional traditional and nontraditional strategies for engaging minority and low-income populations. For example, the Department currently sponsors a community academy focused on providing stakeholders with tools and a framework to engage in the transportation decision-making process.  The academy defines EJ and other equity concepts in the context of the local, regional, State and Federal transportation decision-making process. DOT also plans to develop a new EJ Web site to facilitate informal dialogue and feedback from EJ stakeholders and representatives. DOT also will ensure that communities with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and low literacy populations have access to information to the fullest extent feasible and that their participation in providing input into decision-making is encouraged. The Department’s Office of Public Engagement will assist in developing and refining the Department’s outreach strategy and providing guidance for public engagement.

D. DOT Guidance and Training on EJ

To ensure that DOT managers are fully aware of their responsibilities under EO 12898, the DOT EJ Order, and statutory mandates, DOT will continue to make available informational seminars on EJ for program managers throughout the Department. Representatives from minority and low-income communities have been involved in the planning of these seminars in the past and will continue to be involved as this training is updated.

In addition, all relevant OAs will continue to review and modify existing training courses to ensure adequate coverage of EJ principles and include EJ training examples. These courses include such subjects as compliance with environmental mandates, infrastructure planning and development, implementation of civil rights programs, public involvement, and management of Department facilities and resources. In order to help DOT employees and funding recipients implement the principles of EJ, DOT will also develop or revise training or guidance on conducting technical evaluations of transportation needs of minority and low-income populations as part of Title VI, NEPA, planning, and other analyses. The National Highway Institute and the National Transit Institute provide formal training on the application of EJ to help Federal employees and grantees understand processes and tools to ensure compliance with EJ policies. DOT also offers technical assistance to transportation agencies to ensure minority and low-income communities are identified and provided convenient opportunities to influence transportation decisions that affect their community.

In support of these EJ trainings, on October 5, 2016, DOT launched the Every Place Counts Leadership Academy to demystify the transportation decision-making process for members of the public. DOT will release a transportation toolkit and other informational materials and engage additional communities and stakeholder groups in the initiative at meetings in December 2016.

These training opportunities and technical assistance initiatives improve DOT’s ability to achieve EJ within the Department as well as within DOT projects that receive Federal funds. DOT will continue to ensure that EJ training remains available and includes essential information on meaningful public engagement in transportation decision-making. In addition to traditional methods of reaching minority and low-income communities, DOT will use existing technology to make these training courses as widely available as possible.

III. Role of Key DOT Elements in Complying With Executive Order 12898 and the EJ MOU

The following organizations play key roles in coordinating the implementation process.

A. DOT EJ Working Group

The internal DOT EJ Working Group is comprised of attorneys, civil rights staff, planning office staff, and environmental program staff from relevant OAs and OST, and is coordinated and led by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy (OST-Policy). The EJ Working Group meets regularly to share information on policy updates, implementation of EJ, and other activities. This group discusses EJ and Title VI issues, including those that arise in individual or multiple OAs and in Department-wide initiatives, to ensure consistency in policy objectives, share expertise, facilitate efficient use of resources, and encourage consultation and coordination among employees in civil rights offices, environmental program offices, planning offices, and legal offices. The group also reviews guidance developed by the OAs to ensure consistency throughout the Department.

B. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy

OST-Policy maintains contact with the relevant OAs to ensure that they examine their programs, policies, and activities and take appropriate actions to comply with NEPA, Title VI, EO 12898, the EJ MOU, and the DOT EJ Order. This office is also responsible for monitoring the implementation of the DOT EJ Strategy to help keep the strategy relevant and to foster consistency and full compliance with the principles embodied in the Executive Order and the commitments agreed to in the EJ MOU. In addition, the office keeps senior Department officials properly involved in achieving the strategy’s objectives and in maintaining liaison with the EJ IWG, other departments, and agencies as well as the EJ community.

C. Departmental Office of Civil Rights

The Departmental Office of Civil Rights (DOCR) provides leadership and technical assistance to the OAs and to recipients of DOT funds, as needed, in the administration of their Title VI and external civil rights responsibilities that relate to EJ, including the investigation of Title VI complaints or Alternative Dispute Resolution regarding EJ issues. This may take the form of guidelines, memoranda of general applicability, and training designed to achieve EJ. The DOCR will confer with the OA civil rights offices about EJ matters, particularly prior to issuance of guidelines, memoranda, and other relevant documents, to ensure consistency throughout the Department. The DOCR will update the Department’s Title VI Order.

D. DOT Office of Public Engagement

The Office of Public Engagement will sponsor outreach events for EJ practitioners and for minority and low-income communities. This may include providing training and sharing information on current DOT activities, and soliciting feedback on EJ implementation efforts. The Office of Public Engagement will also provide feedback on OA public engagement plans and outreach strategies across the Department.

IV. Program Efforts that Advance EJ

The relevant OAs have or will develop tools and documents, which may include guidance, best practices, handbooks, administrative statements, circulars, or other products, as appropriate, for achieving EJ in their programs consistent with the DOT EJ Order.

In addition, each relevant OA will focus, as appropriate for its mission, on the following areas:  transportation access to jobs, particularly for non-driving segments of the population; quality of transportation systems near minority and low-income communities; implementation of NEPA; implementation of Title VI; impacts and benefits from commercial transportation and supporting infrastructure (goods movement); and impacts from climate change.

The Department will place special emphasis on establishing streamlined and consistent EJ guidance across all applicable OAs. Actions undertaken are being developed and refined as the Department’s strategy evolves. The DOT EJ Working Group will review OA guidance to ensure consistency across the OAs.

V. Reporting and Accountability

To encourage accountability in coordination and reporting, all relevant OAs will report to OST-Policy within six months of the date on which this strategy is finalized on their progress in developing guidance, integration of EJ principles into existing operations, and other items set forth in the EJ MOU.

Additionally, relevant OAs will submit an annual progress report by December 11 of each year to the DOT EJ Working Group that contain a concise report on progress during the previous fiscal year in carrying out DOT’s EJ strategy and EO 12898. This requirement began in December 2011. As required by the EJ MOU, the DOT EJ Working Group will prepare an annual implementation progress report by February of each year, post the annual report on DOT’s Web site and provide a link to the EJ IWG.

VI. Interagency and Intergovernmental Collaboration

DOT will coordinate procedures, seek ways to further integrate EJ into its processes, and work to remove procedural or regulatory barriers to achieving EJ. This includes programs and collaborations across all relevant DOT OAs, with other Federal agencies, and State, local, and tribal governments.

Through participation in the EJ IWG and committees and adherence to the EJ MOU, DOT will coordinate its EJ efforts with other Federal agencies wherever practical and advisable. The continued development of DOT’s EJ Strategy will be informed by EJ principles and strategies shared across multiple agencies as well as public input; thus, adhering to EO 12898 while encouraging a streamlined set of principles that work to manage expectations from various stakeholders.

In addition to policy and strategies, DOT will work with various stakeholders to develop EJ guidance as needed for DOT-funded interagency programs or activities. EJ guidance for such activities will adhere to the principles outlined in the DOT EJ Order and in this strategy.

Updated: Wednesday, January 18, 2017
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