Advancing Environmental Justice Empirical Research

Focus Area

Environmental Justice


Community & Cultural Concerns, Environmental Process







Research Idea Scope

While many EJ issues are legitimate, many are also unsuited for legal action. Moving forward, the goal of our EJ work is to address this dilemma by conducting empirical research that is context sensitive, integrative, multi disciplinary and useful at the policy, administrative, planning and operations levels.    More work is required to address the complexities associated with Environmental Justice. For example: environmental justice advocacy often uses legal instruments (such as Title VI) to address inequities using established definitions of inequity. This approach tends to be divisive because its focus is on burdens and implies, for example, that middle-class African Americans deserve priority over lower-income whites, and that groups such as seniors deserve special services and subsidies not available to other groups. Resolving environmental justice issues of this nature on an individual basis is plagued with the complicated contradictions. This disconnect alienates potential partners and overlooks structural inequities that harm disadvantaged people.  That said we begin with a two-pronged premise. Premise 1) suggests that State DOT’s and MPO’s have failed to do significant equity analysis in their planning process and Premise 2) argues that the natural progression for environmental justice analysis is to conduct empirical studies with an emphasis on developing fundamental information on travel behavior, analysis methods, and calculation of project benefits.

Illustrative studies of the magnitude and complexity of regional travel demand analysis are likely to reveal environmental justice problems with greater clarity and with greater substantiation than heretofore achieved.  This will be a complex and expensive undertaking and will require drawing upon the same level of expertise that is devoted to the highest priority and most difficult travel analysis problems.  It will require new data collection and sophisticated analysis if it is to stand up to and eventually overcome the superficial analysis that is currently undertaken.

Powerful and impressive examples of how EJ analysis should be done will provide a benchmark against which the work of MPOs and travel analysis consultants can and will be measured.  Surely they will not be able to claim ignorance of methodologies that are shown to be pertinent and revealing.  Moreover, the participation of minority communities in this research will hopefully lead to a more sophisticated citizenry and a new group of potential travel analysts that understand minority transportation issues.

Urgency and Payoff

By focusing on understanding and assessment of burdens rather than benefits, we postulate that there are gaps in the application of Title VI and shortcomings in environmental justice that can be addressed in a positive manner.  This proposition is based on the observation that traditional measurement techniques are not being used effectively to identify analyze and evaluate the distribution of benefits that are inherent in both short and long term transportation plans and projects.

Suggested By

Glenn Robinson, Karel Martins and Aaron Golub, Morgan State University, EJ Toolkit Project, School of Engineering and Institute for Urban Research

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