A new Indiana University report points to the benefits of environmental justice mapping tools and how such a tool might best serve Indiana.
Environmental justice mapping tools bring awareness to communities that are socially vulnerable, overburdened with pollution or experience high levels of environmental or health risks.
The report, which was created by a team of researchers from IU’s Paul H.O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Environmental Resilience Institute, analyzed environmental justice mapping tools used across the United States.
“State and federal governments have been creating these environmental justice mapping tools to learn more about their communities,” O’Neill professor David Konisky, who led the study said. “There’s no such tool in Indiana, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
The research team evaluated 19 environmental justice mapping tools, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s national-level EJSCREEN and 18 state-level tools.
“An environmental justice mapping tool for Indiana would help state and local governments, the public, advocacy organizations and researchers better understand which parts of the state are overburdened by pollution, and how this overlaps with race, ethnicity, income and other community characteristics,” Konisky said.
These tools can empower individuals, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other users with information about communities and inform environmental decision-making by providing important data about the places affected by government and private actions.
“What we learned the most is that every tool is a bit different. Some tools use a combination of demographics, environmental information, health data and other census data. Some have a difference in the interface, how a person interacts with the tool, and how information is presented,” Konisky explained.
Research also revealed that many government agencies and other organizations that develop environmental justice mapping tools have engaged with the public and other stakeholders in many ways, including through environmental justice advisory councils, public workshops and collaborative partnerships.
One conclusion from the research is that community engagement is a necessary step when creating environmental justice mapping tools.
“Community engagement is a really important piece in the process,” Konisky explained. “It’s important that the information resonates with the people in the community, and it should coincide with how the community feels about itself.”
The idea to review these tools originated from a collaboration between Konisky and former ERI Director Janet McCabe, who co-led the effort until being appointed to serve as the EPA deputy administrator in April 2021. The team also included O’Neill Master’s in Public Administration candidates Daniel Gonzalez and Kelly Leatherman.
“It’s important to ask what such a tool might look like and what’s best for the state if we develop one,” Konisky added. “I’m hopeful that such a tool could be developed for Indiana.”
This project was funded by IU’s Racial Justice Research Fund and is the first step toward creating an environmental justice mapping tool for Indiana.