PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, Action United and ForestEthics
Everyone should have access to clean air water and soil, and to a healthy, safe, livable community. Un – fortunately, these rights are often denied to minority and low-income communities, creating a disparate risk and environmental injustice for Pennsylvanians.
ACTION United, ForestEthics, and the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center used the U.S. Environmental Pro – tection Agency’s (EPA) newly published Environmental Justice methodology to investigate the disparate threat to environmental justice communities from trains carrying crude oil through four Pennsylvania cities. In Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Reading a disproportionate number of people living in environmental justice communities reside inside the dangerous oil train blast zone. We conclude that oil train routes contribute to environmental racism in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Department of Justice, Environmental Justice Working Group defines environmental justice as:
[T]he fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the identification of environmental issues and the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental policies, regulations, and laws. Fair treatment means that no group of people – including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups – will bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental impacts resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial activities or from the execution of Federal, State and local programs and policies. The attainment of environmental justice requires the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s proactive and ongoing review of environmental and administrative programs and policies, identification of inequities and work to assure equal consideration and protection.
In June 2015 EPA released EJSCREEN, a mapping and screening tool that provides a “nationally consistent dataset and approach for combining environmental and demographic indicators.” ForestEthics used US EPA’s new method – ology, combined with oil train route information from the rail industry and US Census data, to evaluate the disparate threat from oil trains to the most vulnerable populations in four Pennsylvania cities. The blast zone map, first compiled and published by ForestEthics in 2014, combines oil train routes with the recommended one-mile evacuation area in the case of an oil train derailment and fire.
Our results are presented in demographic maps of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Reading. For each urban area we present two maps, one highlighting minority population data and one highlighting income and minority population data. EPA uses income and race, taken together, to identify potentially vulnerable populations. These are commonly recognized as environmental justice communities.
The US EPA EJSCREEN Demographic Index allows us to evaluate U.S. Census block groups based on their potential vulnerability to environmental risk. Those areas in the 80-90 percentile, 90-95 percentile, and 95-99 percentile compared to the entire US population are highlighted on the maps. To summarize the information we compared the pop – ulations of the most vulnerable block groups (those in the 80-99 percentile) living inside the blast zone versus outside the blast zone. In every case, a disproportionate number of people living in those most vulnerable block groups—which we describe as environmental justice communities based on race and income—live inside blast zone. In addition, people of color comprise a greater percentage of the population inside the blast zone in each of the four cities.