Environmental Justice Screening Tools
In 2017, Michelle Martinez (MS ’08), the Statewide Coordinator for the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, approached SEAS Professor Paul Mohai with the idea for a study that would identify “hot spots” of environmental injustice across the state.
Three SEAS students—Laura Grier (MS ’19), Delia Mayor (MS ’19) and Brett Zeuner (MS ’19)—took on the challenge as their master’s project—with the goal to develop a Michigan-specific screening tool that would help identify the Michigan communities that are the most vulnerable and hardest hit by pollution. The information provided by the screening tool could then be used to develop solutions to alleviate disproportionate environmental burdens across the state. Their “mixed methods” study included both data analysis and interviews with 30 environmental justice leaders.
The Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition was a partner on the project. The study is the first comprehensive quantitative and qualitative assessment of the status of environmental justice in Michigan.
“Results from our mixed-method analysis reveal the need for stronger state-level environmental policy—supported by a screening tool—to protect vulnerable communities from the disproportionate impacts of pollution,” said study co-author Grier.
“Our analysis makes the case for future policy decisions to be informed by the perspectives of affected community members, especially the voices of minority, indigenous, and low-income residents who have historically been excluded from decision-making processes,” she said.
For the study, the students drew on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Census Bureau.
They also investigated methodologies used in several existing environmental justice screening tools: EJScreen, used by the U.S. EPA; CalEnviroScreen, used by the California Environmental Protection Agency; and Story Map and What’s in My Neighborhood, both used by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The information gathered by the students was then used to calculate an environmental justice score for each census tract in Michigan. The scores were used to create maps that revealed hot spots of disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards, as well as high vulnerability due to demographic factors.
“We urge the state of Michigan to adopt this screening tool as its own, to help identify Michigan communities that are hardest hit by pollution and to adopt solutions to alleviate the disproportionate burdens that those communities bear.” – Michelle Martinez
CONTINUING THE WORK…
The following year, SEAS students Molly Blondell (MS, EJ), Wakako Kobayashi (MS, BEC & EJ), Bryan Redden (MS, EPP & EJ), and Arianna Zrzavy (MS, EJ), built upon the work of their former classmates for their master’s project, “Environmental Justice Tools of the 21st Century.”
At the Michigan Environmental Justice Summit 2020, Zrzavy presented her team’s research in the EJ Student Flash Talks at Rackham Auditorium.
Michelle Martinez (MS ’08) is a Latinx-Mestiza environmental justice (EJ) activist, writer, and mother, born in Detroit and raised by the Latino Diaspora. Since 2006, she has worked in local communities of color to build power to halt climate change, and the detrimental effects of pollution in post-industrial Detroit. Working across issues of race, gender, and nationality, she has built and led coalitions using art / media, land-based programming, popular education, voter engagement, and corporate accountability tactics to shape policy solutions.
Currently, she is the Statewide Coordinator for Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, which advocates for climate justice for communities disproportionately impacted by environmental toxins.
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