Wednesday, February 6, 2013

EPA Releases Report on Smart-Growth, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Developments

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a one of a kind sustainability report promoting fair treatment and meaningful involvement of low-income, minority and tribal communities to encourage smart-growth, people-focused community building, and place-focused economic development strategies.

The report cites three pillars of its approach: environmental justice, smart growth, and equitable development.

Environmental Justice

Approaching environmental justice, the EPA reiterates its policy that “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, or commercial operations and policies.” [1] The EPA also resonates the idea that the “public should have opportunities to participate in decisions that could affect their environment and their health, their contributions should be taken into account by regulatory agencies, and decision-makers should seek and facilitate the engagement of those potentially affected by their decisions.”[2]

Under the authorities of Executive Order 12898 and the EPA’s Plan EJ 2014, the Agency’s overarching strategy for advancing environmental justice, the EPA together with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and 17 other federal agencies, are working with community stakeholders to develop and implement environmental justice strategies. Together, they aim to strengthen community access to federal resources, integrate environmental justice into programs, policies, and activities across the federal government.[3]

Smart Growth 

Under Smart Growth, the report describes how low-income, minority, and tribal communities can employ strategies to clean up and reinvest in existing neighborhoods; provide affordable housing and transportation; and improve access to jobs, services, parks and stores. It also provides practitioners with concrete ideas on how they can better meet the needs of low-income residents as they promote development or redevelopment in underserved communities. To this end, the report enumerates 10 Smart Growth principles[4] based on the experiences of communities around the country:

  • Mix land use: by mixing housing, shops, offices, schools, and other compatible land use in the same community, the residents are able to walk, bike, or take public transit thus drive shorter distances and lowering their transportation costs; (according to the report, low-income areas and underprivileged individuals tend to spend a larger portion of their income on transportation—up to 30%, as opposed to privileged and wealthy individuals who may spend only 9% of their income on transportation); 
  • Compact building design: green and compact building design principles preserves open space and uses land and resources in efficient and effective ways to create communities that are transit friendly, reduces pollution thus improving water quality, and encourage healthier lifestyles;
  • Affordable housing and range of housing opportunities: by providing quality and affordable housing options in new and re-development communities, people of all income levels, household size, and stages of life will be able to live near jobs, public transit, and services thus encourages inclusion and diversity, promotes new opportunities, and allows for innovation to occur naturally;
  • Walkable communities: increasing walkability of communities encourages active lifestyles, reduces transportation cost and pollution, and helps reduce obesity, diabetes, and other preventable diseases;
  • Strong sense of community: preservation of community history and culture encourages economic vitality and long-term sustainment of quality of life;
  • Open-space, farm-land, natural landscape, and critical environmental areas: preserving these types of natural and working lands support land-based economy that are critical for regional and national economies; the vegetation in these natural areas also helps protect environmental public health by filtering pollutants from the air and water;
  • Direct development in existing communities: by investing in communities that are blighted, investing dollars will go to addressing environmental and health hazards in the most critical areas; it will also bring new jobs and services for residents while conserving investment by utilizing already existing infrastructure;
  • Variety of transportation choices: by building a balanced transportation system that incorporates different means of travel—buses, rail, walkways, bike lanes, and carpool lanes—residents will have more options for getting around; this will encourage responsible behavior and reduce air pollution as well as related health problems; this will also increase mobility for low-income individuals thus providing more job and service opportunities;
  • Predicable, fair, and cost effective development decisions: by making development processes clear and by working with the private sector and all stakeholders, municipalities can make smart growth economically viable and attractive to private investors and developers;
  • Stakeholder collaboration: by encouraging all stakeholders to participate in the decision making process, development will create great places to live and work, thus increase a community’s sense of ownership and empowerment; this will invariably lead to smarter growth patterns from both the private and the public sector; involving all stakeholders will also encourage inclusive innovation, and by involving all parties early, the implemented innovation will have a better chance of succeeding according to the community’s vision and goals.
Equitable Development 

The EPA report vitalizes the idea that development should be about creating healthy, vibrant, and sustainable communities where residents of all incomes, races, and ethnicities have access to opportunities, services, and amenities they need to thrive. The strategic focus is on helping low income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities participate in and benefit from decisions that shape their neighborhoods and regions.[5]

The concept of equitable development is a culmination of environmental justice and smart growth: it emphasizes that everyone should be protected from environmental hazards and be able to enjoy equal access to environmental, health, economic, and social necessities such as clean air and water, adequate infrastructure, jobs, and involvement in decision-making. Equitable development incorporates people-focused strategies with placed-focused strategies. People-focused efforts are centered around supporting and empowering residents of a community within the context of their own; there is an emphasis on job training and placement, business development, homeless initiatives, education, health, and wellness programs, financial literacy programs, and revitalization efforts taken by the residents. Place-focused efforts focus on stabilizing and improving infrastructure and environment, developing fair housing initiatives, and initiating pollution cleanups to reduce economic disparities, bring new opportunities, and improve the overall quality of life. Equitable development also calls for a regional perspective in order to reduce health and economic inequalities and improve outcomes for low-income communities while building healthy urban regions.

More Details 

The report also notes some of the challenges and sets out some case studies around the country showcasing their success. These case studies include:
  • designing safe streets for all users
  • cleaning and reusing contaminated properties
  • reducing exposure to facilities with potential environmental concerns
  • fixing existing infrastructure before investing in new projects
  • preserving affordable housing
I highly encourage you to read through the report if you have the time. Otherwise, we will be addressing some of the issues in this report in the future posts. So sign up to follow this blog and stay tuned.

More information about the report:

More information about the Office of Environmental Justice:

More information about the Office of Sustainable Communities:


[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Justice, available at

[2] Id.

[3] Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898, (EJ MOU), available at

[4] Smart Growth Network, Why Smart Growth? available at

[5] PolicyLink, Equitable Development Toolkit, available at

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