Environmental Justice” Is the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, or ability, with respect to the development, implementation, enforcement, and evaluation of laws, regulations, programs, policies, practices, and activities, that affect human health and the environment.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is committed to working in collaboration with Federal, State, Tribal, and local governments, along with non-governmental organizations and private individuals, to address conditions that place communities at risk and assist communities to achieve environmentally suitable living conditions and, ideally, healthier lives.
History & Federal Response
The environmental justice movement began through the activism of people of color addressing environmental and economic burdens such as poor air and water quality, lack of access to land and nutritious, culturally relevant foods. The movement gained national attention through the 1960s and 80s during the Memphis Sanitation Strike, the class action lawsuit against Southwestern Waste Management in Houston, TX, brought by the Northeast Community Action Group, and peaceful protests against toxic waste dumping in Warren County, North Carolina—one of the few majority black population counties in the state.
Issues of environmental deprivation go back much further, though. Since first contact, the removal of indigenous peoples from their lands and the institution of slavery, people of color on the land that would become known at the United States have faced dispossession. Their fight continues through protests, federal and state lobbying, and grassroots action and activism.
The Federal Government is dedicated to empowering individuals and communities, particularly in ways that promote and protect national public health and the environment, while conserving our national treasures and monuments. It is committed to guidance from scientific research to improve health, protect the environment, ensure access to clean air and water, and healthy, culturally relevant food.
Executive Orders & Planning
The three executive orders that established and affect Environmental Justice at USDA are:
Executive Order 14091 [federalregister.gov]
Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, 16 February 2023.
- Executive Order 13990 [federalregister.gov]
Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis, 20 January 2021.
- Executive Order 14008 [federalregister.gov]
Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, 27 January 2021.
USDA partners with the EPA as part of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council [epa.gov]. Outside of the Advisory Council, EPA has multiple programs, tools, and funding available [epa.gov] for communities who face issues related to EJ.
Climate & Environment
- Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool [screeningtool.geoplatform.gov]
Assists federal agencies in identifying communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. The tool is in beta testing and will be updated based on feedback and research.
- Environmental Justice Index Explorer [cdc.gov]
Measures and compares cumulative vulnerability and environmental impacts by scoring census tracts that experience the cumulative impacts of environmental burden and injustice equal or lower than a given tract of interest.
- Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool [epa.gov]
Provides nationally consistent data concerning demographic and environmental information for a given area.
- NEPAssist [epa.gov]
Facilitates the environmental review process and project planning in relation to environmental considerations.
- US Climate Resilience Toolkit [climate.gov]
Tools and information to build climate resilience.
Community & Development
- Distressed Communities Index [eig.org]
Includes an interactive map that measures the comparative well-being of US communities and helps illuminate disparities across the country.
- Groundwork USA [groundworkusa.org]
A workshop on the guiding principles of economic justice including tools to determine if participants have achieved their goals.
- Guide to Federal Assistance and Resources for Environmental Justice Efforts [PDF 4 pages]
Shares resources and tips for finding and accessing resources and information related to Environmental Justice topics.
- Social Vulnerability Index [cdc.gov]
Helps local officials identify communities that may need support. Social vulnerability refers to the potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health, such as natural or human-caused disasters, or disease outbreaks.
Farmland & Food
- Farmland Access Legal Toolkit [farmlandaccess.org]
A resource for farmers who need land to farm and for farmers who want to transition their land to another farmer as part of their estate planning or for other reasons. Spanish resources: Recursos en Español [farmlandaccess.org].
- Healthy Food Policy Project [vermontlaw.edu]
Identifies and evaluates local laws that seek to promote access to healthy food while also contributing to strong local economies, an improved environment, and health equity, with a focus on socially disadvantaged and marginalized groups.
- Justice40 [usda.gov]
A whole-of-government initiative with the goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to historically-excluded communities that are marginalized and overburdened by pollution.