Comments on Environmental Justice Screening Tool (EJSCREEN)

PDF Version: Comments on Environmental Justice Screening Tool 

August 3, 2015

Via electronic mail
Mr. Kevin Olp
Environmental Policy Specialist
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Environmental Justice
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Mail Code: 2201A
Washington, DC 20460

Re: Comments on Environmental Justice Screening Tool (EJSCREEN)

Dear Mr. Olp:

The undersigned organizations of the Choose Clean Water Coalition (Coalition) commend you on the release of EJSCREEN. It is an innovative tool that will help our organizations identify the communities that need additional resources and advocacy assistance. The tool is free, web-based, and open to the public giving it an unparalleled ability for widespread use and education. Thanks to the potential of this tool, thousands or even millions of individuals can learn about the environmental issues in their community and organizations can better learn how to protect the people they serve. The Coalition applauds EJSCREEN for its peer reviewed scientific rigor, high resolution data, and applicability in various contexts. The demographic indicators and chosen pollutants are of particular interest to many in the environmental community.

The visual presentation of the tool is also commendable. We like the ability to easily generate reports through a user-friendly web interface. The color coding provides the ability to view different environmental indicators throughout American communities. Allowing the user to toggle between various environmental indicators, demographic indicators, and EJ indices is particularly useful.

EJSCREEN can become even more impactful and user friendly with some minor adjustments:

A. Functionality
The system does not allow users to view multiple map layers at once. For example, users can map ozone or PM 2.5, but not look at both to see what locations have high concentrations of both pollutants. This information is critical to determine cumulative pollution impacts on communities. The same goes for demographic data--you can view low-income or age data, but not at the same time. It would be most useful to layer pollutant and demographic data at the same time to identify low-income areas with high water pollution proximity. If the tool does in fact allow users to do this, the tool should make it clear how this layering of data can be done.

B. Creating a User-Friendly Site
Many novice or casual users might refrain from watching the long webinar or be intimidated by the depth of instructions on the site. The user guide is almost 50 pages long and is quite useful for more technically savvy visitors, but may leave others overwhelmed. Helpful hints on how to use the site and a more condensed “quick-user guide” would be very useful.

Many potential users might not know the meaning of all the acronyms of the indices, such as PM 2.5, TSDF, RMP, etc. We recommend defining these acronyms and classifying them under air, water, or land pollution categories.

The current format provides a link that will open a glossary of terms in another tab. We suggest that a short description of each of the environmental indicators appears when it is hovered over by the cursor. Further, including the glossary in the screening tool (instead of in another tab) will increase the interactivity and functionality of the site.

C. Providing Additional Tools
The tool provides the ability to help the user identify pollutants in their area. Ideally, EJSCREEN should provide tools and methods to help individuals protect their family and community, such as:
1. Provide links to organizations or agencies in the area that could help them.
2. Create “how to” pages on protecting yourself and your communities from these pollutants and link to generated reports.
Last, the EJSCREEN website should provide a forum where users can post and share experiences/lessons-learned using the tool in order to foster continued knowledge and growth throughout the Environmental Justice Community.

D. Other Comments
1. Add more water-related EJ tools than just the Water Discharge facility. EJSCREEN can use data from the Chesapeake Bay Program and others to include information on drinking water quality, fecal coliform bacteria in local streams, water quality levels, and more.
2. Allow a side-by-side comparison of areas in order to compare communities. For example, a user could compare a community in San Francisco with a community in Baltimore. Currently, the bookmark feature allows users to toggle between saved locations to make comparisons. However, side-by-side displays may be more useful.
3. EJSCREEN should be used when funding related projects in these regions.
Overall, EJSCREEN is an important tool that can be used by environmental groups in many ways. It can help us identify areas where we can target investments and community outreach to ensure that overburdened and underserved communities are receiving funding and program opportunities. EJSCREEN is also a necessary tool to help states and funders make decisions about where to fund projects equitably.

We are happy to discuss our comments on EJSCREEN further. Please contact Chante Coleman by phone at 443-927-8047 or by email at colemanc@nwf.org.

Respectfully submitted,

Blue Water Baltimore
Earth Forum of Howard County
Friends of Accotink Creek
Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake
Maryland League of Conservation Voters
PennFuture
Sleepy Creek Watershed Association
Virginia Conservation Network
Waterkeepers Chesapeake
West Virginia Rivers Coalition