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Rural Environmental Justice Resources

Road Sign with text "Main Street". (iStock)

The environmental justice resource guide compiles relevant and current resources related to supporting and fostering environmental, economic, and health prosperity in rural communities. 

According to the Environmental Justice Strategic Plan:2016-2020​, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defined Environmental Justice as a tool to ensuring that the needs of underserved communities are met.  Underserved communities are those which have not participated in, or have not received, limited benefits from USDA programs which may improve their quality of life and/or environment.  This is accomplished by several pathways: 

1). Reducing disparate economic burdens.

2). Removal of barriers to participation in the decision making processes (e.g. decisions about community, how funding is spent, etc.).

3). Increased access to environmental benefits (e.g. improvement of water and/or air quality, increased biodiversity, etc.) that help all communities stay safe and healthy.

4). Ensuring all populations have appropriate access to the benefits of government programs and activities that apply to them.

The USDA is committed to working in collaboration with Federal, State, Tribal, and local governments - as well as non-governmental organizations and private individuals, to address conditions that place communities at risk; and assisting those communities in achieving environmentally suitable living conditions and ideally, healthier lives.

As rural communities continue to experience population loss, higher rates of poverty, and lower educational attainment, the USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) is focusing its research on factors that affect the income and poverty status of rural residents and their participation in federal assistance programs. 

Throughout this guide, information and resources related to the USDA's mission of addressing environmental justice will be outlined and shared. 

USDA Environmental Justice Progress Report

Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice

U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • StrikeForce - A collaboration to leverage resources within the USDA and other federal, state, and local governments, and other partner organizations to help improve economics in rural America.
  • Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) - Environmental Justice Tools NRCS offers tools to help ensure underserved communities have access to NRCS' financial and technical programs and services. Includes a list of their partnerships, outreach program, and role in USDA StrikeForce.
  • Economic Research Service (ERS) - Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America - Provides statistics on socioeconomic factors related to rural areas and small towns.

U.S. Department of Interior

  • Environmental Justice Resource Guide - Includes resources and contacts related to tribal communities, land management, ocean energy and mineral resources, fish and wildlife, national park service, and geological/natural resources. Provides information resources applicable to community-based organizations. 
  • Environmental Justice DirectoryThe U.S. Department of Interior protects America's natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.  The directory provides contact information for liaisons in various agencies within the Department of Interior (e.g. Office of Environmental Policy & Compliance, Bureau of Indian Affairs).
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Offers resources including grants and planning tools related to Environmental Justice 
    • EJ Tools - EPA designed utilities for screening, mapping, and reviewing areas that have potential environmental issues. Further descriptions of each link found at its web destination.
      • Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (EJSCREEN) - A mapping tool that provides nationally consistent data concerning demographic and environmental information for a given area.
      • NEPAssist - Facilitates the environmental review process and project planning in relation to environmental considerations. Draws data from the EPA Geographic Information Systems databases among others. 
      • Enviroatlas - Sourcing geospatial data, tools, and resources related to ecosystem services, their stressors, and human health.
      • College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP) - Provides partnering with local colleges and universities to deliver technical assistance to underserved communities.
      • EPA Land Revitalization and Brownfields Initiatives - The EPA's Brownfields and Land Revitalization program supports and standardizes how communities address and manage contaminated property. 
      • Brownfields - Properties whose development, or redevelopment, may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. 
      • Petroleum Brownfields Action Plans - EPA action plan to foster the return of abandoned, under-used petroleum brownfiels to productive use. 
      • Brownfields Grant Funding - Information for recipients to inventory, characterize, assess, conduct planning, create site-specific cleanup plans, and conduct community involvement activities related to brownfield sites.  
      • State and Tribal Community Response Program Grants - Grant funding for state and Tribal lands to create new or enhance existing environmental response programs in order to prevent, assess, cleanup, and sustainably use existing brownfields.
      • Tribal-Focused Environmental Risk Sustainability Tool (T-FERST) - A web based information and mapping tool to provide tribes with access to the best available human health and ecological science information.  Requires access via email request to TFERSTMail@epa.gov with "Request Access" in the subject line.  Please also include name, affiliation, and reason for using the tool.
      • Land Revitalization - EPA program to put previously contaminated properties back into productive use.  The program ensure that reuse considerations are used in all of the EPA's cleanup decisions. 

U.S. Department of Interior

  • Urban Waters Federal Partnership An interagency initiative dedicated to restoring urban waters and improving underserved neighborhoods that surround them. 
  • Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  • Environmental Justice Regional Contacts - Regional Health Administrators perform essential functions for HHS in three major areas: prevention, preparedness, and agency-wide coordination.  
  • Health Resources and Service Administration
    • Federal office of Rural Health Policy provides information on funding, current health policies, rural hospital programs, rural community programs, and current rural health research.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Office of Tribal Relations (OTR)
    • Council for Native American Farming and Ranching - Created to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on ways to eliminate barriers to participation for Native American farmers and ranchers in USDA programs.
    • Tribal Programs and Services - Programs and services available through the USDA to Tribal governments, Tribal communities, and organizations, and individual Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. Including Tribal Consultations on implementing/using USDA programs and agricultural regulations. 
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Wildlife Grants - Provides funding to develop and implement programs for the benefit of wildlife and their habitat, including species that hold cultural and traditional importance to Native Americans and species that are not hunted or fished.
  • Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) - FNS operates 15 nutrition assistance programs in cooperation with State and local agencies and organizations. These programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school meal programs, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, form a nationwide safety net that helps low-income families and individuals, including those in environmental justice communities.
    • WIC Prescreening Tool (WIC PT) - An FNS launched tool to help applicants determine if they're likely to be eligible for WIC benefits. WIC PT can be completed in English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Somali, and Vietnamese.
  • Rural Development (RD)
    • RD's Water and Environmental ProgramsProvides loans, grants, and loan guarantees for clean drinking water and for sanitary solid waste and storm drainage in rural areas.
    • RD Programs & Services - Rural Development offers programs and services to support communities (including tribal communities), nonprofit organizations, local lenders, and individuals to address needs in their communities around water and waste disposal.
  • Forest Service
    • The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Project (SFLR) - Partnership between USFS, NRCS, and U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities assists African American landowners in obtaining professional advice on government assistance programs and formal forest management plans. 
    • Cooperative Forestry Programs - The Cooperative Forestry Unit of the USDA Forest Service works closely with communities and partners to maintain healthy forests across watersheds and ecosystems, on public and private land, for the benefit of all people. CF's work is delivered through state and local government, other federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and other partners.
  • Agricultural Market Service
    • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Programs - Two programs which specifically emphasize low-food access/low-income areas (i.e. low-income communities who have limited access to grocery stores). The program supports America's underserved communities in their pursuit of improved access to fresh, healthy food. 
  • Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) - Offers multiple programs related to food needs, international agricultural trade, and food procurement.
    • Market Access Program (MAP) - Through MAP, FAS partners with U.S. agricultural trade associations, cooperatives, state regional trade groups, and small businesses to share costs associated with overseas marketing and promotional activities to help build export markets for U.S. agricultural products and commodities. 
  • Natual Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) - NRCS programs provide funding for socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers to cover up to 90% of conservation practice costs dependent on producer eligibility. Their programs increase incentives for disadvantaged applicants to participate by offering greater upfront expense coverage for conservation practice installations.
  • Farm Service Agency - Programs and services provided through the Farm Service Agency to assist all farmers with financial needs associated with certain commodities, agricultural laws and regulations, and conservation and disaster support.

Environmental Protection Agency 

  • Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program - Provides financial assistance to eligible organizations working on or planning projects to address local environmental and/or public health issues in communities using EPA's "Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Model".

National Library of Medicine