Watch for New Impacts from the Latest Environmental Justice Screening Tool

Environmental Law  

April 29, 2014

California Environmental Protection Agency (“Cal/EPA”) and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”) have announced the availability of the draft California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool Report (“Draft CalEnviroScreen 2.0”) for public review and comment. The written comment period closes on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Cal/EPA and OEHHA will be hosting a webinar on April 30th and a series of three public workshops in early May to provide further public comment on the revised draft CalEnviroScreen.

CalEnviroScreen is a screening tool that uses existing environmental, health, and socioeconomic data to create cumulative impacts scores for communities across California. State law requires that Cal/EPA conduct its programs, policies, and activities, and promote enforcement of all health and environmental statutes, so as to ensure the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures and income levels. In response to Cal/EPA’s directive to develop guidance on assessing, preventing, and reducing disparities in cumulative impacts, OEHHA developed a preliminary screening methodology for assessing cumulative impacts on communities. OEHHA used this methodology to develop the draft California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool. The Draft CalEnviroScreen 2.0 is the latest version of the CalEnviroScreen tool.

The Draft CalEnviroScreen 2.0 uses the same methodology as the prior version, but proposes several significant changes that will affect the assessment of cumulative impacts of environmental conditions.  Among the changes are the addition of two new indicators for drinking water quality and unemployment.  The new drinking water indicator is a toxicity-weighted drinking water quality index for selected contaminants that takes into account the number, concentration, and relative toxicity of contaminants based on data collected from multiple sources, including the California Department of Public Health and the State Water Resources Control Board. The inclusion of this new indicator reflects OEHHA’s perspective that drinking water is “an important potential pathway for exposure” to contaminants. The unemployment indicator was added to the socioeconomic factor to reflect the rate of unemployment as it relates to pollution exposure and poor health. CalEnviroScreen 2.0 also analyzes pollution burdens and vulnerabilities in census tracts, rather than ZIP codes which OEHHA believes will allow for a more precise analysis of cumulative impacts for many parts of the state. Additional proposed changes include revised weighting and proximity adjustments for certain other indicators, changes in data modeling, the use of additional sources of data, and updated datasets.

Cal/EPA’s ultimate goal is to incorporate cumulative impact considerations into environmental decision-making. Agencies and legislators have already begun to look at ways to use CalEnviroScreen in their programs and legislative initiatives. The tool will likely be used to bolster environmental justice efforts, allowing agencies and governments to identify opportunities for sustainable economic development and prioritize burdened communities when providing financial assistance through Cal/EPA loan and grant programs. However, CalEnviroScreen could have other consequences for businesses operating in highly impacted areas. For example, regulators could decide to use the screening methodology to target enforcement efforts based on the relative ranking of pollution within a particular community, or to identify priority areas for environmental monitoring.  Other entities or parties may even rely on the screening tool to identify areas facing particular public health risks, or to estimate relative real estate values for communities throughout California. According to the results of the Draft CalEnviroScreen 2.0, the overall highest pollution burdens and population sensitivities for the state are found in census tracts located in the San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire.

The current comment period allows stakeholders and the general public to participate in the development of the screening tool. We will continue to monitor the development of Draft CalEnviroScreen 2.0 at upcoming public workshops and throughout the written public comment period.  For additional information or to submit comments for your business or industry group, please contact us.

The Draft CalEnviroScreen 2.0 can be accessed at: