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Environmental Justice in CEQA?
It Is Here, and It Is Time

Low-income households, communities of color, indigenous peoples, and tribal nations have experienced disproportionate environmental effects, pollution burdens, and related health impacts in the United States, including California. As a result, these communities face significant barriers to their overall health, livelihood, and sustainability. Notwithstanding a substantial body of state law and policy addressing environmental justice (EJ), normally progressive California has lagged on this issue in its environmental review process. However, consideration of EJ in CEQA is changing because local EJ policies are becoming more common. Pursuant to Senate Bill 1000, general plans are now required to include EJ-related policies. These policies aim to reduce the unique or compounded health risks in disadvantaged communities (DACs), promote civic engagement in the public decision-making process, recognize and resolve disparities in community pollutant exposure, and prioritize improvements that address the needs of DACs (California Government Code Section 65302[h]). The legislative requirement that EJ elements or policies reduce health risks in DACs squarely connects environmental justice with CEQA in two ways:
  • CEQA requires consideration of a project’s consistency with policies adopted for the purpose of avoiding or mitigating environmental effects; and
  • There is a legislative mandate that CEQA determinations of significance consider whether a project would “cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, whether directly or indirectly” (CEQA Section 21083[b][3]).

General plan EJ policies that are tied to environmental impacts are the primary linkage to CEQA. With that premise in mind, Ascent has developed several recommendations for evaluating EJ in CEQA. Ascent’s recommendations are described in the AscentShare paper, “Environmental Justice in the California Environmental Quality Act: It is Here, and It is Time.”

Any Questions?

Gary Jakobs

Gary Jakobs

CEO/Principal – Environmental


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