Establishing Equity Measures for Environmental Justice Cost-Benefit Analyses

Focus Area

Environmental Justice


Community & Cultural Concerns, Environmental Process






2-3 years

Research Idea Scope

Problem Statement – There are many definitions of the term “equity.” The way equity is defined influences the distributive goals of an action. Cost-benefit analysis, for example, usually employs the utilitarian concept of equity: the distribution of goods and/or services that maximizes total welfare or social utility. The alternative with the highest net benefit is the “winner.” However, this approach does not address the distributions of benefits or burdens on specific populations because it does not consider individual or community factors. An alternative with the highest net benefit could concentrate benefits in one population segment and burdens in another. Such an outcome may lead to potential environmental justice problems. Thus, it is important to understand which standards of equity can meet environmental justice requirements and how to operationalize them in ways that facilitate their inclusion in cost-benefit analyses. This may mean disaggregating analysis of costs and benefits to the local level. Proposed Research – 1. Identify the most common concepts of equity, summarize how they have been applied in practice and evaluate their consistency with environmental justice standards. Perform a literature search and survey current practice.  2. Synthesize a proposed equity definition that is consistent with environmental justice principles. Circulate proposed definition(s) among representative practitioners, legal staffs, and interest groups for input. 3. Develop a set of indicators that can be used to determine equity in transportation projects and policy impacts consistent with environmental justice principles. Circulate proposed indicators among representative practitioners, academic researchers, and interest groups for input. Test potential indicators for effectiveness in practical applications. 4. Where possible, develop value measures for these indicators appropriate for use in cost benefit evaluations. Test proposed measures for utility in cost-benefit analysis, consistency with NEPA and other environmental justice requirements, and the effectiveness in capturing the differential values (positive and negative) of project- and policy-induced changes.




Suggested By

ADD50, Environmental Justice in Transportation Committee, as specified in TRB Research Needs Database, 2009. (Submitted to TRB 6/2007)