Environmental Justice Considerations in Climate Action Planning

In a changing world subject to ever-increasing climate-related hazards, including increased air pollution, extreme heat, sea-level rise, and wildfires, planning and developing projects with a consideration of environmental justice is crucial. Per the EPA, environmental justice (EJ) is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement” of all people regarding development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Additionally, EJ requires that all people have the same protection from environmental hazards and equal access to participate in making decisions on the development of safe, healthy places to live, learn, and work.

Furthermore, many California cities have environmental justice communities within them, which need to be addressed per California Senate Bill 1000. These communities are often frontline communities to the effects of climate change, and are facing a tipping point in many areas, ranging from air pollution, traffic congestion, sea-level rise, or affordability. These stressors are pressuring cities to determine how to encourage, enable, shape, and deliver disruptive advancements in ways that result in long-term systematic improvements and sustainable environments.

Three Keys to Environmental Justice

Making headway on climate-adaptive projects, in EJ communities and elsewhere, requires attention three core issues:

  • State regulations around EJ. Projects should be undertaken with comprehensive and integrated understanding of applicable policies related to the reduction of risks such as air pollution, fire, sea-level rise, and extreme heat.
  • Funding to accomplish projects. Once projects have been identified, securing EJ-specific funding can be an important tool. Competitive projects should be woven into grant application implementation plans, with an eye towards downscaling data and understanding the specific vulnerabilities to a community and how those relate to topics in the implementation plan in order to create locally relevant policy.
  • Outreach to and inclusion of environmental justice communities. Most importantly, care must be taken to empower local EJ communities by collaborating with the necessary partners, such as outreach experts and community leaders to design activities that educate local community members of common planning tools and encourage them to customize these tools to reflect the values and needs of their community.
Graphic titled 3 Keys to Environmental Justice in Climate Action Planning.
The three keys to incorporating environmental justice in climate action planning include understanding regulations, securing funding, and conducting community outreach.

EJ in Action

Recently, Dudek planners have partnered with the City of Rialto to design a climate action plan tailored to their community with special consideration given to environmental justice. In 2018, the City of Rialto was awarded a Caltrans Adaptation Planning Grant to adopt a Climate Adaptation Plan with a focus on the disadvantaged communities within the City. Dudek planners developed a framework to assess the EJ communities’ vulnerability to climate-related hazards and identified current City policy focused on serving the specific needs of these communities. We are currently developing adaption strategies and priority adaptation projects, focusing on environmental health concerns, as well as creating capital improvement priorities that are grant-competitive.

A man and a woman stand behind a table covered with a model of a city, while a child from an environmental justice community stands in front of the table playing with the model.
Dudek planners oversee a placemaking activity at a City of Rialto community event for environmental justice communities.

Rose Newberry, AICP, said, “It’s our role as planners to understand local goals, challenges, and opportunities; work closely with the community to develop solutions; create plans that can adapt over time to changing conditions; clear regulatory hurdles; and leverage partnerships and funding sources to hasten the development of more sustainable and resilient communities.”

Dudek’s Planning and Urban Design group was awarded the 2019 Business Achievement: New Practice Award from the Environmental Business Journal.

For more information on environmental justice and climate action planning, contact Ruta K. Thomas at 626.204.9822 or rthomas@dudek.com.