The Justice40 Initiative is a national effort that calls for federal agencies to work with state and local governments to ensure at least 40% of the gains from federal environmental justice investments benefit disadvantaged communities. Described as a “whole-of-government approach”, the Justice40 Initiative provides a framework to measure the impacts of federal programs that focus on clean energy and energy efficiency, workforce development, environmental remediation, and critical water infrastructure to support communities that have been historically marginalized, underserved, and overburdened.
The Interim Implementation Guidance for the Justice40 Initiative issued in July 2021 summarizes the actions federal agencies should take on the path to achieving Justice40, such as establishing minimum thresholds for specific benefit allocations, prioritizing solicitations that include community engagement and feedback, and guiding applicants to reinvest cost savings into disadvantaged communities. With additional guidance forthcoming, the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, and Environmental Protection Agency have already started developing tools to help states and local governments deliver on the Justice40 objectives.
The recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), offers a timely example of an opportunity to put the Justice40 framework into action. With over $1.2 trillion for more than 350 new and existing federal programs to modernize our roads, bridges, rails, grids, pipes, and many more pieces of our vast infrastructure systems, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leverage these historic investments in the physical systems that connect us to win opportunities with and for those that have the most to gain.
With so many federal programs currently on the table, our state’s private and public sector leaders should curate a data-driven Justice40 roadmap that builds on existing resources to shine a spotlight on our Justice40 communities. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Areas Viewer provides a good place to start to identify, visualize and analyze Environmental Justice Areas across Pennsylvania. If located in Allegheny County, the county’s Environmental Justice Index provides a more locally relevant set of metrics, such as proximity to greenspace and educational attainment. Taking our analysis one-step closer to the people, local decision-makers can evaluate social determinants of health via a set of tools collaboratively developed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Health Equity at the School of Public Health, Sustainable Pittsburgh, and the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center which combines civic data with social determinants of health in REACH communities to identify specific communities and their specific needs.
Additionally, the federal government is currently testing a Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to help identify disadvantaged communities across a number of Justice40 factors such as energy, transportation and housing cost burdens, persistent poverty, racial and ethnic segregation, and many other variables. Combined with our state resources, these national datasets provide a solid foundation for identifying communities where investment will have the greatest impact.
The Justice40 Initiative is a roadmap. Just as the CEOs for Sustainability network developed the Leading Forward Roadmap that guides businesses to reduce carbon emissions, advance racial and and ethnic equity, and prioritize local suppliers, Pennsylvania needs a Justice40 roadmap that builds on the resources we already have at our fingertips.
Justice40 was originally led by a group of environmental justice leaders, academics and advocates working to highlight the need for federal climate programs to directly benefit those most affected by the resulting poverty and pollution. The group issued a report that outlines recommendations for government entities to consider when allocating funds, such as accountability frameworks, justice-oriented awarding criteria, robust community engagement programming, and enforcement mechanisms to ensure the objectives of the Justice40 Initiative are met.
For those interested in having their voice heard on this important issue, consider submitting a public comment on Pennsylvania’s Draft Environmental Justice Policy and encourage our state officials to incorporate Justice40 criteria into our state policies. The public comment period is open until May 11, 2022, and public hearings are being held throughout April. Keep up to date on new developments from the Office of Environmental Justice and let’s continue to showcase Pennsylvania as the premier state to invest in across all criteria.
Our role in ensuring public dollars are invested equitably is vital, especially now. While much more work is needed to codify the climate resilience, clean energy, multi-sector decarbonization, and workforce training programs necessary for sustainable change, focusing benefits on people always results in a win.