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Environmental Justice adds perspective to Earth Day

Environmental Justice adds perspective to Earth Day

Every year on Earth Day, our nation renews its focus on the environment and climate. This year at DOT, we're paying special attention to how transportation decisions have different environmental impacts on different communities. For example, more frequent transit service can mean less exhaust fumes on a neighborhood street. That could lead to better health for those residents. In addition to lower medical costs, better health also means fewer days of school or work missed because of illness, and that translates to better economic opportunity down the line.

As directed by President Obama, DOT's Departmental Office of Civil Rights (DOCR) and our Operating Administrations seek environmental justice, a concept that recognizes the junction between a healthy environment and social justice--for all people. Whether it’s new interstate highway construction, or a major airport project, we have a vested interest in avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on marginalized populations--to preserve their health today and ensure reliable access to opportunity tomorrow. 

Contest submission for Earth Day
Submission to the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada's Earth Day Student Art Contest

We know--and a recently released intergovernmental report confirms--that the environmental effects of planning choices don't strike all communities equally. That's why DOT considers the environmental impact of transportation projects on local communities and how DOT can better manage transportation projects to minimize that impact.

Changes to a community's environment affect not only ecosystems and human health, but also residents' access to the ladders of economic opportunity that help Americans get ahead.

In support of these efforts, the Department provides oversight, consultation, regulations, research, and education to state DOTs, municipalities, and transportation planning organizations.  This ensures that transportation benefits including access, mobility, and service quality are fair--regardless of the economic or ethnic composition of a community.

Part of the strategy is to encourage public engagement with leaders and members from potentially affected communities, as early as possible, in transportation processes.  Transportation planners are encouraged to hold listening sessions, keep community members informed on decision making, and seek input from those most impacted.

Through these efforts, we work to ensure that communities have equal and reliable transit services; that transportation projects positively impact the ladders of economic opportunities of all our communities; and that transportation projects funded by DOT treat all communities equitably.

Further, DOT works alongside the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development in our interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities to tackle interrelated development challenges.  Together, we're empowering communities regardless of color, national origin, or income to integrate housing and transportation decisions and combine them with good environmental stewardship.

For example, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, we're working with HUD and EPA to add a commuter rail station and housing where once stood burned out buildings that had been used to manufacture armaments for America's World War II efforts. And in Alabama, we've worked to protect the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail, a scenic highway, by working with EPA to improve groundwater infrastructure. At the same time, HUD has awarded Montgomery block grants for affordable homes for the city's police officers and teachers.

For most, Earth Day encourages thoughts and actions on the repercussions our decisions have on the natural environment.  Here at DOT, we're reminded that a healthy environment--one where where we can not only live and raise a family, but also build a future--is a basic civil right for all Americans.

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