Environmental Justice

The concept behind the term "environmental justice" is that all people – regardless of their race, color, nation or origin or income – are able to enjoy equally high levels of environmental protection. Environmental justice communities are commonly identified as those where residents are predominantly minorities or low-income; where residents have been excluded from the environmental policy setting or decision-making process; where they are subject to a disproportionate impact from one or more environmental hazards; and where residents experience disparate implementation of environmental regulations, requirements, practices and activities in their communities. Environmental justice efforts attempt to address the inequities of environmental protection in these communities.

A Federal Environmental Justice Policy

On February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, creating a federal Environmental Justice (EJ) program to address EJ in minority and low-income populations.

EJ is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as, "The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies."

Federal laws, guidelines & policies:

  • EPA's 1998 EJ Guidance (provides details and guidance for implementing the federal EJ program)
  • Executive Order #12898 of 1994 (established the federal EJ program)
  • US Constitution (equal protection) Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Environmental Justice in California

California was one of the first states in the Nation to pass legislation to codify environmental justice in state statute. Environmental Justice is defined in statute as, "The fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies." (Government Code Section 65040.12)

CA laws, guidelines & policies:

  • Government Code Section 65040.12 (defines EJ and designates the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) as coordinator for state EJ program)
  • Government Code Section 65040.2 (requires the OPR to develop EJ guidelines for local General Plans)

Environmental Justice and Public Participation at the Energy Commission

Public participation in the Energy Commission power plant review process is assured through opportunities for the public to be informed about and involved in the review of a proposed project. Public participation, including open and effective dialogue with stakeholders, fosters relationships, provides a forum to address concerns, and helps to promote actions that minimize impacts on the surrounding community and the environment as a whole.

The California Resources Agency developed an Environmental Justice Policy that applies to all of its Departments, Boards, Commissions, Conservancies and Special Programs. The Energy Commission has been integrating environmental justice into its siting process since 1995, as part of its thorough California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis of applications for siting power plants and related facilities. The cornerstone of the Energy Commission approach is based on wide-reaching public outreach efforts by the Siting, Transmission & Environmental Protection Division, the Hearing Office, Media & Public Communications Office, in addition to the Public Adviser's Office, to notify, inform and involve community members, including non-English speaking people.

This comprehensive method to identifying and addressing EJ concerns requires the early involvement of affected communities and other stakeholders. Additionally, approaches to effectively address EJ issues require partnership and coordination. Most significantly, in efforts to pool all available knowledge and bring it into the process, the Public Adviser's focuses outreach in power plant siting cases to involve local, affected community members, and stakeholders with a background and understanding of a particular area.

Those who live with the outcome of environmental decisions - State, Tribal, and local governments; environmental groups; business; community residents - must have every opportunity to engage in public participation in the making of those decisions. An informed and involved community is a necessary and integral part of the process to protect the environment.

Contact the Public Adviser's Office if you want to know more about public participation in a particular proceeding.

Additional EJ information may be obtained from the following websites:

Agency guidelines & policies:

  • California Resources Agency EJ Policy (directs entities under its jurisdiction - including the California Energy Commission - to consider EJ in their environment-related decision making process)

NOTICE: Distributed by the Public Adviser's Office. This is for informational purposes only. It is designed to assist you in understanding the process. It is, therefore, general in nature and does not discuss all exceptions and variations.