Michigan Environmental Justice Assessment: determinants of racial disparities for an equitable future

Client Organization: 
Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
Project Location : 
Detroit, MI, USA
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives: 

  1. Create and deliver an Environmental Justice Assessment of the state of Michigan;
  2. Identify, gather, and assess EJ data sets to effectively evaluate the “State of Environmental Justice” in Michigan;
  3. Layer social indicators of people of color communities and communities at and below the federal poverty line; explore vulnerable population subsets [women, immigrant, single-parent households]
  4. Deliver a statistical analysis of cumulative environmental impacts on these communities;
  5. Integrate a community input aspect that may include survey, interviews, focus groups;
  6. Develop a policy analysis congruent to the institutionalized implementation of solutions to the problem of cumulative impact;
  7. Deliver a final report to the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, which communicates findings of the “State of EJ in Michigan” that includes a physical rendering of the results, presentation, maps, and glossy report.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance: 

  1. Michigan environmental justice communities suffer disproportionate impacts on health and quality of life issues. For example, home of the state’s only oil refinery is in zip code 48217, sited to be the state’s most polluted zip code, and statistically significant rates of lung cancer in Michigan. Detroit, has three times the asthma hospitalization rate than the rest of Michigan, and asthma is the number one cause for absenteeism in school children. Refer to Schultz et al. [2016] which found that Census tracts with greater proportions of people of color disproportionately encounter physical environmental exposures, socioeconomic vulnerabilities, and combined risk.
  2. Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition [MEJC] is exploring advocacy channels to create systems change for environmental justice in Michigan and current tools, such as EJ Screen, are limited in their scope. A mechanism to demonstrate the implementation of a California-style EJ Enviro-Screen would demonstrate the feasibility and help make the case to decision-makers in often underrepresented geographies while acting as an advocacy tool for EJ practitioners.
  3. MEJC is seeking to build bridges between communities that are geographically disparate, and historically segregated to act on a common goal of Environmental Justice for all. This project would help to build political momentum, grassroots power, and systems change by creating new knowledge and offering it to our social networks to respond collectively through advocacy, media and more.
  4. Current members of MEJC are involved in multiple political activities that aim to improve the health and welfare of vulnerable communities and would benefit by more research during a critical change in State Administration 2019 to “make the case”.
  5. The impact of this research would amplify the need for policies that alleviate or ameliorate, if not eventually eliminate disproportionality of environmental impacts, and make the case to transition into a clean and just environmentally-friendly economy.
  6. As a consequence of the Flint Water Crisis, the Governor has put together and charged an Environmental Justice Work Group with developing an environmental justice plan for the State of Michigan. A number of members of MELJ are on this Work Group, including Dr. Mohai who is an academic member of MELJ. With the University of Michigan’s reputation and expertise in the area of environmental justice, SEAS Masters students could play an important role in helping to develop a baseline assessment of the state of environmental justice in Michigan against which future progress in achieving environmental justice in Michigan could be measured.

 Specific Activities & Duration: 

  1. Literature review may include: Environmental Justice Assessments, Vulnerability Impact Assessment, Cumulative Impact, Just Research, Survey and Technology Methodology
  2. Review, and with the collaboration of MEJC and EJ Advisor, select environmental indicators and social indicators prominent in Michigan; Gather, compile and analyze available soft and hard data sets relative to those indicators
  3. Explore mechanisms to present data [GIS mapping/ digital informatics] and create a modus for communication of data;
  4. Research policy approaches to the implementation of EJ solutions that incorporate procedural justice themes; with a possibility to design policy implementation metrics and model scorecard        
  5. Develop survey language to create new data on environmental justice communities, gather input relative to the environmental and social indicators chosen
  6. Attend, and possible present at, the Statewide Environmental Justice Summit in Fall 2018

 Integrative Approach: 

An environmental justice assessment for Michigan will integrate research, data analysis, informatics, and social science skills and tools to provide one environmental justice assessment. We would like new data on EJ communities, but how can we make this transparent, readily available, readable by community and decision-makers? All pieces to the puzzle help to create a complete picture that will make our communities more just and environmentally sound. The EJ Assessment is an advocacy tool for MEJC affiliates to approach decision-makers for systems change at a critically important political juncture—the gubernatorial election. It should be coherent and singular, such that it is contextualized within the best available research, and operational vis-à-vis ready and appropriate advocacy channels.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Paul Mohai
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Laura Grier 
  • Delia Mayor 
  • Brett Zeuner 
Project Status: 
In Progress