Environmental Justice as a Public Policy
In 1994, Executive Order 12898, EJ was created to identify and address the effects of all programs or activities of Federal-aid recipients, sub-recipients, and contractors. As a public policy, the goal of EJ is to ensure that any adverse human health or environmental effects of any government activities do not disproportionately affect communities of color or populations with lower incomes. EJ does not intend to provide preferential treatment to these populations but rather fair treatment to all populations.
Environmental Justice at SJTPO
Transportation planning must be done with the involvement, and for the benefit, of all residents in South Jersey. As the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the region, SJTPO is required to develop a Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Both planning products, in coordination with the EJ Report, must address EJ concerns and do so through the following actions:
- Identify communities of color and populations with lower incomes so their needs can be identified and addressed, and the benefits as well as the burdens of transportation investments can be fairly distributed throughout the planning area.
- Enhance existing analysis processes to ensure the RTP and TIP comply with Title VI of Civil Rights requirements.
- Evaluate the existing public involvement processes and make improvements, as needed, to include communities of color and populations with lower incomes in the decision-making process.
Demographics of SJTPO Region
Demographic data for the SJTPO four-county region comes from two sources, the decennial United States Census and the American Community Survey (ACS). The region is home to approximately 586,000 residents, which accounts for roughly 6.5 percent of the state’s population. As EJ analyses focus on residents in poverty, Hispanic populations, and racial minorities, the following table shows a summary of the individual EJ Characteristics.
In short, the Non-Hispanic Minority population percentage for the region (20.7 percent) is less compared to the state (24.2 percent) but is comparable to the national level (20.9 percent). The region’s Hispanic or Latino population percentage is less (18.5 percent) than the state (19.7 percent) but greater than the national level (17.6 percent). The percentage of two individual races deviates significantly from the state or national percentages. The region has a lower percentage of Asian residents (4.5 percent) compared to the state (9.4 percent) and the national level (5.4 percent). And the SJTPO region has a higher percentage of Black or African American residents (14.3 percent) than the state (13.5 percent) or the national level (12.7 percent).
Engagement with Environmental Justice Communities
As established in the Public Involvement Plan (PIP), it is imperative for SJTPO to involve all residents, particularly underserved populations in the community, in the transportation planning process. In terms of strategies to serve the traditionally underserved population, SJTPO:
- Aims to target outreach events in ADA-accessible facilities and transit-friendly locations;
- Holds meetings at convenient times to maximize engagement opportunities
- Tailors messaging and communication methods to try to maximize access to information; and
- Provides timely and reasonable access to information, including 30-day minimum public comment periods for planning documents and hard copy and electronic versions of planning documents.
Further, SJTPO maintains and regularly updates its outreach contact list which includes agencies, civic groups, and other organizations that actively engage with communities of color and populations with lower incomes. SJTPO regularly corresponds with all entities on the list when public comment opportunities and other regional planning news is available. When relevant to the project or activity, SJTPO distributes press releases to and places advertisements in newspapers serving communities of color and non-English speaking populations. SJTPO is conscious of the limited number of newspapers in the SJTPO region that serve these populations and actively explores other free publications and media outlets that may be accessed by communities of color and populations with lower incomes.
Conclusion of Environmental Justice within the Region
The SJTPO region has a high percentage of residents who have been historically underserved, and who face more challenges than the broader public. Thus, it is important that SJTPO continue to recognize and be sensitive to those challenges while carrying out its processes, programs, and plans. In general, the distribution of TIP funds in the region is unbiased with respect to communities who have historically been underserved, which indicates the funds are fairly allocated with respect to EJ Areas. With this said, SJTPO will continue to work to monitor and improve conditions in EJ communities throughout the region.
You can learn more about this is the SJTPO Environmental Justice Report.