Environmental Justice

DEEP Press Release
10/27/2021

DEEP and UConn CIRCA Partner to Develop Mapping Tool for Environmental Justice Communities

Project Will Provide Valuable Data to Better Inform Policies Seeking to Address Environmental Inequities

(HARTFORD)—The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)and the University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) are partnering on the development of an “Environmental Justice (EJ) Mapping Tool” to identify vulnerable populations that may be disproportionately impacted by programs, policies, or projects and to inform initiatives for creating healthy communities.

A commitment to equity and environmental justice starts by recognizing that disparities in health outcomes, inequities in living conditions, and lack of political power have placed many communities of color, low-income communities, people with disabilities, and other historically disadvantaged people at greater risk and limit the capacity of their communities to adapt to climate change. This EJ Mapping Tool is an important step toward addressing those disparities, implementing a recommendation made by the Equity and Environmental Justice Working Group of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) in its January 2021 Report to create a visual representation of the distribution of environmental and climate health vulnerabilities across Connecticut, with input from known environmental justice communities, that can later be utilized in existing state programs, including in the distribution of grant and bond funding.

To develop this tool, DEEP has partnered with CIRCA. Over the next two years, researchers at CIRCA, building off of work presented in the “Scoping and Recommendations for the Development of a Connecticut Environmental Justice Mapping Tool” report from Yale student research, will seek to build a community-state partnership through a combination of statistical spatial analysis and engagement with vulnerable communities across the state.

“I’m thrilled to be launching this critical project with our partners at CIRCA,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “Equity and environmental justice have been a major focus of the Lamont Administration, the GC3, and our work at DEEP, and this tool will provide indispensable information, informed by the very communities most disproportionately impacted by pollution and the changing climate, to better inform decisions and policy-making to address those disparities.”

To build the EJ Mapping tool, the work will be divided into three parts. Preparation of the Initial Environmental Justice Map Viewer will include collecting Geographic Information Systems (GIS) source layer data across major indicators, reviewing data for quality and comprehensiveness, and establishing protocols for updating and maintenance of the data. The Community Feedback Process will include launching the EJ Mapping Tool Advisory Committee that will include organizations that represent different interests that contribute to environmental justice including health, transportation, racial justice, education, and more. The committee member organizations will receive funding to support their participation. This part of the process will also include several focus groups, held throughout the state and tribal nations (in environmental justice communities, where possible) to ascertain community environmental and health concerns and review and assess data layers in the mapping tool. This information will be collected and shared with State GIS Partners and the EJ Mapping Tool Advisory Committee for initial identification of potential layers that represent community priorities raised. Finally, the Creation of the EJ Map Viewer 2.0 and Next Steps phase of the project will entail final meetings and discussions, revisions to the EJ Map Viewer, and the drafting and release of the final project report and launch of the EJ Map Viewer 2.0.

CIRCA’s Dr. Joanna Wozniak-Brown, along with Dr. Yaprak Onat, will be the project managers.

“As a research institute, CIRCA regularly generates data based on scientific study,” said Wozniak-Brown. “As we experience increasing impacts from climate change, amplified in some communities by historic and ongoing inequities, understanding the unfair burden on communities across the state in a measurable way will be one critical piece to inform decision-making and policy change. This data will tell a story. That’s why we will be asking community organizations and Connecticut stakeholders to shape the process so the data can represent their lived experience. We are humbled and honored to serve the state in this capacity.”

Lee Cruz, Director of Community Outreach for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and Co-Chair of the GC3 Equity and EJ Working Group, applauded the news of DEEP and CIRCA’s partnership on the project.

“We are delighted to hear that DEEP contracted the University of Connecticut to develop an Environmental Justice Mapping Tool, as recommended by Equity and Environmental Justice Working Group of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change,” said Cruz. “For too long, communities of color in Connecticut have been at the center of some of the worst environmental contamination in our state. Few policy decisionmakers are aware of the consequences of these contaminants on our children and ourselves. An environmental mapping tool can help recall and present the impact of these contaminants. And as we plan for the climate change adaptation and mitigation that is now inevitable, this tool will help us all to clearly visualize the areas of greatest need and plan with a greater sense of justice than in the past.”

Learn more about environmental justice, DEEP’s Environmental Justice Program, and Environmental Justice Communities in Connecticut.