17 minute read 20 December 2022

Climate equity

Discovering the next frontier in outcome measurement in government

Bruce Chew

Bruce Chew

United States

Tiffany Fishman

Tiffany Fishman

United States

Sally D'Amato

Sally D'Amato

United States

Wendy Wallace

Wendy Wallace

United States

Crystal Upperman

Crystal Upperman

United States


The United States is about to experience a huge wave of federal infrastructure investment. Historically, such broad infrastructure programs have had disproportionately burdensome consequences for disadvantaged communities.1 Today, federal agencies, along with many state and local governments, are trying to ensure the harms of the past do not continue by focusing more on equity and benefit-sharing in project preparation and execution. In this paper, we examine these efforts and the steps that federal, state, and local agencies need to take to ensure their success.

In recent years, the negative consequences of well-intentioned government investments have come to the fore. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which authorized the construction of more than 41,000 miles of interstate highways, is a prominent example.2 While its economic benefit to the nation as a whole was enormous, it came at a high cost to many disadvantaged communities of color. The project ultimately displaced more than a million people, disrupted pedestrian landscapes, crashed home values, and worsened air quality in many neighborhoods—with most of the affected communities being predominantly Black and those living in poverty. In the last few decades, billions have been spent to reverse some of this damage.3 Rural communities also suffered as long-distance travelers abandoned state roads dotted with small towns and businesses, “leaving once-vibrant towns fading into obscurity and busy roadside stores and restaurants struggling to make ends meet.”4

As the federal government once again prepares to make historic investments in infrastructure, it is critical to avoid causing more undue harm. The potential for these negative impacts on disadvantaged communities was widely recognized in the 1980s, with increasing efforts to correct course in the years since.

In 1987, the United Church of Christ published Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, a landmark report concluding that communities’ racial and ethnic composition can be used to predict the location of hazardous waste sites.5 This eventually led to the creation of new federal policies in 1994, such as Executive Order (EO) 12898 under President Clinton, which directed federal agencies to “identify and address adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations.”6

In subsequent years there was little change, and the demographics of communities closest to pollution sources remained low-income and majority Black.7 The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, from 2014 to 2017, became a watershed moment, bringing awareness of environmental justice issues to the forefront of the national conversation.8 This focus made clear the difference between identifying injustice and doing something meaningful to address the problems. Growing public awareness since Flint has created a groundswell of demand for government to do more to improve the health, well-being, and resiliency of disadvantaged communities.

The public sector’s data collection and measurement capacity has increased substantially in recent years, better positioning agencies to respond to public pressure for increased transparency on the impact of government investments. Government agencies can now look at the impact of investments closer to real time, have more opportunities to engage affected communities in dialogue, and can make better decisions about how investments are made.

In this paper, we examine the three areas in which government leaders can act and evolve their capacities to advance climate equity (see “Climate equity defined”). Those areas include identifying disadvantaged communities, meaningfully engaging with stakeholders (including impacted communities), and measuring impacts and benefits from money that is flowing through covered programs (figure 1).9 The lessons leaders can take from this examination are central to advancing climate equity. They are equally important for efforts focused on climate sustainability, restoring aging infrastructure, or enhancing economic growth and national security. Indeed, they are relevant wherever the government seeks to deploy investments to pursue national benefits without disproportionate harm falling to lower income and disadvantaged communities.

We begin our examination with a look at how recent federal and state initiatives are prompting increased public sector focus on climate equity and environmental justice.

Climate equity defined

Climate equity is the principle that each individual—regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, income, and other characteristics—should benefit from a clean environment and have access to the resources and opportunities they need to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change.

The public sector’s measurement capacity has increased substantially in recent years, better positioning agencies to respond to public pressure for increased transparency on the impact of government investments.

New initiatives mark a turning point

Key Executive Orders and guidance are attempting to ensure that the benefits of federal investments accrue to all communities and that disadvantaged communities are visible and recognized in each relevant set of investments made (Appendix A). Among the most notable and best documented of these efforts to date is the Justice40 Initiative.

Created by EO 14008 in January 2021, Justice40 sets a goal that at least 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments, including those involving clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable housing, and pollution remediation, must flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and burdened by pollution.10 Justice40 requires the government to view mission effectiveness in a newly expanded way—including giving marginalized Americans a voice at the table in planning to help ensure that government is effective for all the constituencies it serves.   

Based on the EO, new policies “will require an interdisciplinary effort and connection across many perspectives, sectors and research silos [and] new data sources, methodologies and frameworks,” says Shalanda Baker, director of the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.11

Among the Biden Administration’s most visible efforts to ensure that the well-being of disadvantaged communities is an integral part of federal decision-making is the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights within the Environmental Protection Agency.12

The federal government isn’t alone in its increased call for the consideration of equity and environmental justice. Several states and regions have taken similar actions (figure 2), while other states are taking a different path.

Identify disadvantaged communities

Justice40 is an example of a transformative change in how the government will approach a wide array of significant investments, focusing not just on the level of benefits, but also on who benefits. To this end, agencies must begin by identifying disadvantaged communities they can influence and/or impact with their investment dollars and programs.

Thanks to the availability of richer and more accessible data, policymakers’ view of the composition of communities is clearer than ever before. In the words of Matthew Tejada, director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “We have so much data available that if you can make it transparent, make it meaningful, and empower users of all stripes—federal agencies, states, communities, utilities, the private sector—to engage and use that data in ways that help them answer their specific policy or program question, it makes equity and justice tangible and helps people at all levels make better decisions.”13

The challenge, then, is to assemble data in ways that make it easy to use and to derive meaningful insight from. For its part, the federal government has created several mapping tools to help identify communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. The White House Council on Environmental Quality, for instance, has been directed to create a geospatial climate and economic justice screening tool (CEJST) that highlights disadvantaged communities in support of the Justice40 Initiative.

Version 1.0 of CEJST launched in November 2022 and provides socioeconomic, environmental, and climate information to inform decision-making that may affect disadvantaged communities.14 CEJST uses some data common to the EPA’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool (EJSCREEN), which has existed since 2015 but has recently been updated, expanding its focus beyond pollutants. While there is some overlap between the two tools, they can both help ensure that government decisions adequately reflect climate equity concerns.

Agencies can use these tools, along with other data and insights, to develop mission-specific identification of disadvantaged communities. Each agency can identify the programs that have the greatest potential to impact equity and climate, then define and prioritize communities those programs are most likely to affect. Table 2 shows the number of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) programs relevant to Justice40 and the criteria they used to select them. The differing criteria allow for a tighter focus by each agency but make it more difficult to sum up the whole-of-government effects.

States, including New York and California, are taking up similar identification of disadvantaged communities in view of climate equity.15

To tailor their definitions of disadvantaged communities, agencies can use the tools mentioned above, as well as a host of other sources for relevant indicators, such as information from the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, and Agriculture, as well as interagency and nonprofit research reports. This broad and integrated sourcing and usage of data will be key to successfully addressing climate equity, especially as potential data sources continue to evolve. Christopher Coes, assistant secretary for Transportation Policy at USDOT, says, “The government is finally asking the fundamental question of the data: How do we take X number of census tracts that have been designated as disadvantaged and move them to thriving American communities?”16 This is, of course, a core question with relevance well beyond the bounds of Justive40.

Staying nimble as new data becomes available

The ability to identify disadvantaged communities and those most affected by climate change will continue to improve. DOE’s Energy Justice Mapping Tool, for example, identifies and targets the top 20% of the most vulnerable census tracts in each state; as time progresses, the next quintile will be addressed.17 And then the next.

During that time, the status of communities—in terms of disadvantage, program deployment, and climate risk—may change. Given the dynamic nature of the problem, identifying disadvantaged communities will be an ongoing activity, one informed by new technologies and data sources as they become available.

The increasing use of low-cost connected sensors will continue to expand data collection exponentially. The world already has more connected devices than people; the World Economic Forum has predicted that by 2025, 41.6 billion devices will be capturing data on how we live, work, travel, and operate and maintain the machines on which we depend.18 Adding to the data flow will be multiple constellations of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, thousands of which are expected to be launched in the near future. These will provide even more detailed and community-specific data on climate and activity.19

The census tract is the most common delineated area used today, representing neighborhoods in urban areas and, in some instances, entire rural counties. Often, more granular insights are possible. It’s important to recognize that there are multiple “communities” within communities, differing in their needs and their ability to access benefits; a disadvantaged community, for instance, includes children, seniors, the employed and unemployed, individuals with health conditions, and so on. Any given investment, say in electric buses, will have varying effects on these groups and benefits that accrue differently depending on bus routes and scheduling. The CDC’s Environmental Justice Index (EJI), for example, measures the cumulative impact of environmental burden on health, assigning a score for each community that public health officials can use to identify those at greatest risk for health impacts for targeted interventions.20

Finer-grained analyses will illuminate the impact of government investments, allowing for a new cycle of discovery and prompting further questions on how agencies measure investment impact on the population and on the communities that they define as disadvantaged in relationship to their mission. To truly understand the needs of individuals within a community, it is best to engage with residents directly—which is our next subject.

Meaningfully engage impacted communities

Across all levels of government, there is a growing recognition that meaningful engagement with disadvantaged communities can improve the design and effectiveness of public programs and foster greater democratic participation. “The voice of communities is what centers and drives our efforts to advance environmental justice at EPA,” Tejada remarked when introducing the EPA’s move from quarterly to biweekly National Environmental Justice Community Engagement Calls. “Our mission to protect the health and environments of everyone in the United States can only be achieved if we listen to and engage with communities who have not received the same level of protection.”21

The importance of engaging early and often

The drive to engagement involves a series of increasing levels of effort, a “ladder” with rungs that must be climbed to ensure effective communication and collaboration (figure 4). The first rung, Inform, is a one-way information flow from decision-makers to the local community. The intent is to inform and gain buy-in from the local community through open houses, fact sheets, presentations, billboards, and other pre-packaged communications.

As one moves up the ladder, the community assumes a greater role. At Consult, the community provides input into the planning process, sharing concerns through public comments, community forums, open houses, and surveys. Involve is a higher commitment, one that ensures that community concerns are considered fully and reflected in planning, where appropriate. As one moves to Collaborate and Community Ownership, the community assumes greater power, first as partners in decision-making and ultimately as leaders and owners or co-owners of the project, holding joint responsibility for securing benefits.

These higher rungs represent new models for agency engagement—and call for new capabilities from affected communities. Some agencies are actively working to build those capabilities. In 2022, for example, U.S. EPA launched a series of workshops to help “individuals and organizations working in underserved and disadvantaged communities to address their environmental and public health concerns and provide improved community-to-community networking and other communications between all stakeholders.”22

While it may seem that increasing community engagement will further lengthen an already demanding public input process, on the contrary, it can de-risk projects by preventing public opinion from shutting down the process in design. Meaningful public consultation must take place at an early enough stage for changes to be incorporated. If consultation simply intends to inform the community of what is taking place, it merely pays lip service to the process and raises the likelihood of substantial objection and public outcry. Incorporating changes earlier in the process is far cheaper than waiting until later, which is why it’s so important to engage the community as early as possible.

As a starting point, many federal agencies are auditing their programs for opportunities to improve their community engagement. The Department of Commerce, for example, plans to make its science and data more accessible and usable to underserved communities.23 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Weather Service, will work across multiple programs to ensure that historically underserved and socially vulnerable communities can access the data and programs they need to build climate resilience.24

California’s Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) is a grant program that empowers disadvantaged communities to set goals, select strategies and choose projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in their neighborhoods. The law establishing TCC outlined a broad engagement guideline for the Strategic Growth Council (SGG), the state-level cabinet committee administering it. In addition to reaching out to disadvantaged communities, SGG must consider comments from regional agencies, local governments, and various other stakeholders while creating funding guidelines and selection criteria. To ensure a more equitable funding and implementation process, the law also requires SGG to award grants for projects demonstrating community engagement in all phases and to earmark at least 5% to 8% of the grant value specifically for community outreach and engagement.25

New models of engagement

Community engagement will continue to evolve as new tools and approaches become available, and as the use of data across stakeholders becomes commonplace and pervasive.

New technologies have created entirely new forms of engagement. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and web scraping (the use of bots to extract website content) can increase government’s ability to collect and analyze data exponentially. Chatbots and virtual personal assistants can increase our ability to engage meaningfully with larger audiences.

One example in another field illustrates the ways in which new tools and channels can create new opportunities for connecting with citizens. When the nonprofit, The Public Good Projects (PGP), attempted to reduce unintended pregnancies among Black and Hispanic teenagers in Syracuse, New York, it didn’t begin by creating a website or social media presence. Instead, it recruited local young women to discuss the challenges they encounter in finding information about reproductive health. After conducting focus-group discussions with more than 30 of them, PGP learned that participants preferred to consult a confidential, trusted “friend” for their questions. In collaboration with these participants, PGP co-developed a chatbot from scratch, with participants weighing in on the chatbot’s gender, appearance, and features, as well as its name: Layla.26

Crowdsourcing through smartphone apps or web platforms can engage large numbers of people and reduce barriers to engagement. When US representatives Raul Grijalva and Donald McEachin began exploring legislation to address environmental justice, they crowdsourced opinions through an interactive online tool. The lawmakers used it to make the drafting of proposed legislation more participatory and inclusive from its inception. McEachin said they were looking beyond typical input from lobbyists and public interest groups because “we want to be in a position where we’re listening and hearing from you [the people]. This needs to be a bottom-up solution rather than a top-down solution.”27

The tools of communication and engagement will continue to evolve, as will each group’s willingness and access to them. A multipronged approach that continually considers what is effective will be essential to ensure that efforts don’t remain stuck on the bottom rung of the engagement ladder.

Measure benefits and burdens

Agencies now have access to a wider and ever-growing array of data that can help them measure the impacts of their actions on specific communities. Large government statistics programs, such as those at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, now employ informal data-capture tools such as web scraping, in addition to their traditional and increasingly accessible numerical data. Some agencies are starting to think beyond descriptive data collection or point-in-time assessments to start evaluating how communities change as a result of their policies and investments.

Efforts to harness this data for engagement vary by agency, programs, and investment type. Some efforts are farther along than others, but what matters is that many efforts are underway and will continue to improve. Data will be essential to deploying once-in-a-generation investments in infrastructure, climate, and community resilience as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Justice40 is one example of using data to drive equity, and represents one of the first attempts by the federal government to explicitly prioritize benefits for disadvantaged communities via a measurement system approach.28 Benefits measurement is already widely utilized across the federal government as part of competitive grant funding, with agencies including US Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, all requiring benefit and cost analysis. Justice40 builds on this approach, considering not just things like reductions in congestion, air pollution, and hazard risk and improvements in economic opportunity, but also whether those benefits are being directed to people and places that need them most. Governments at all levels will have to be open to using both quantitative and qualitative data to monitor their progress. The data used should represent the lived experience and may include community sentiment gathered using social media, ethnographic research, and anecdotal information. Part of the purpose of enhanced engagement is to ensure that what’s measured is what matters to the community.

Rather than relying strictly on quantitative data, for example, ProPublica used chatbot technology to text community members and ask them about their perception of smoke in the air from crop burning in Florida’s sugar fields. While air-quality meters were not showing anything abnormal, many young locals were experiencing breathing difficulties. This short survey helped journalists identify the everyday realities of life near the fires, regardless of what was indicated by potentially faulty monitors.29

As Dr. Tony G. Reames, deputy director for Energy Justice at the US Department of Energy, observes, “We can only change the things that we track and measure.”30 Equity can be difficult to measure because changes in health and wealth tend to occur over long periods. Organizations must therefore use both short- and long-term metrics to course correct over time.

Developing measures reflecting social impact is a challenging process. Developing climate equity measures provides an example that highlights the dynamic and multi-dimensional nature of that challenge. To get started with measuring climate equity, agencies should first understand their mission impact on communities and identify objectives that are meaningful to both the agency and to the communities they are seeking to impact. Once those objectives are identified, agencies should update their measurement framework to include climate equity, using both the quantitative and qualitative data currently available to inform decision-making for the programs that most impact the communities identified. Agencies should establish a portfolio view of their investments to dynamically track their impact against established objectives, with an eye toward maturing their agency’s measurement capacity over time (figure 5).

Next: Integrating and learning

Many agencies are calling their current climate equity steps “interim” measures. This reflects a wise recognition that both the data and the measures will evolve over time—as will the way they’re used.

Agencies need an integrated view that helps inform their investment decisions and measure their cumulative effects over time, to avoid creating new unforeseen negative impacts. A dashboard can provide a detailed view of investments and all related programs, filterable by program or region, with key performance indicators such as investment amount, number of projects, and the distribution of burdens and benefits to communities, to track the investment portfolio’s impact over time (figure 6).

To date, most dashboards simply map disadvantaged areas, which is a critical first step. To enable better decision-making, the map should merge geospatial data with program investment data to allow agencies to make informed decisions and track outcomes over time, assisting them in defining community disadvantage indicators, measuring benefits, and monitoring long-term investment outcomes in communities.

To enable better decision-making, the map should merge geospatial data with program investment data to allow agencies to make informed decisions and track outcomes over time, assisting them in defining community disadvantage indicators, measuring benefits, and monitoring long-term investment outcomes in communities.

When an agency understands its current investments, it can apply the dashboard’s metrics to future investments to promote the highest level of equity and continue to increase its capabilities as data improves over time. 

Broadly shared visual information through dashboards can promote shared learning among federal, state, and local agencies. Valid evidence about what does and doesn’t work may be the most important driver of national impacts. Dashboards also provide transparency to communities, allowing them to monitor progress over time. 

Connected action: Take action based on insights

At this point, the added focus on climate and disadvantaged communities is still new for many organizations. But it is essential to get started.

The effort begins with data collection to understand current conditions and guide decision-making. The data may not only identify problems, but also point toward their solutions.

Consider Ginnie Mae’s effort to obtain the data needed to move toward more equitable mission outcomes, for example. Historically, underserved communities have had less access to capital markets, resulting in fewer opportunities to build credit and home equity.31 To incentivize the investment community to extend greater credit access to these communities, Ginnie Mae expanded environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure to increase disadvantaged communities’ access to credit markets.

Ginnie Mae lacked the demographic data on borrowers needed to disclose ESG information to the investment community and buyers of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) interested in buying social justice bonds. It consulted with Wall Street and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development leaders to understand what data would be meaningful in this space and then worked with lenders to strike a balance between transparency and disclosure in the protection of personal information. According to Alanna McCargo, president of Ginnie Mae, “By enhancing the value of our mortgage-backed securities through expanded data on [ESG] disclosures and implementing new methods of attracting global capital into the American housing finance system, we can ensure that our MBS and programs remain attractive to the global investment community.”32

Importantly, it no longer takes months or years of pilots to build useful, actionable information. With current technology, agencies can perform “what-if” scenario planning in as little as six to eight weeks. For a grant to create greenspace and mitigate urban heat island effects, for example, agencies can use modeling tools to understand how a particular program changes transportation patterns and property values and how people move in and out of neighborhoods. They can also be used to understand the downstream effects of other changes, comparing the model to real-world behavior.

With rapid feedback tools that can help to offset the painful costs of learning what doesn’t work, decision-makers can explore different approaches and their impacts. Such tools have evolved to the degree that it is now possible to build models of a community, allowing for relatively high-fidelity simulations of proposed changes to measure their potential impacts—both positive and negative—on a particular community.

Looking ahead: Continuing to adapt and evolve

The journey toward climate equity passes through a rapidly changing landscape.

And the journey is under way. Metrics and data will improve and become more widely available. Agencies will become more accustomed to incorporating a multidimensional view of performance, including equity in decision-making and performance tracking. Disengaged communities will become more involved in planning, tracking, and advising. And many profound changes will emerge from the growing ubiquity of data through low-cost sensing and the evolution of the Internet of Things.

Leaders at all levels—federal, state, and local governments, nonprofits, and community organizations—would do well to learn from these efforts as they travel the path to a more equitable future in the face of a constantly changing world.

Appendix A

At this writing, the Biden-Harris administration has issued 95 EOs, 19% of which deal with climate, equity, and/or environmental justice. Table 3 lists these 18 EOs, as well as significant pieces of legislation related to environmental justice. Of particular significance to environmental justice are the highlighted EOs.

  1. See, for example, Farrell Evans, “How Interstate Highways Gutted Communities—and Reinforced Segregation: America's interstate highway system cut through the heart of dozens of urban neighborhoods,” History, October 20, 2021.

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  2. US Senate, “Congress approves the Federal-Aid Highway Act,” June 26, 1956.

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  3. See, for instance, David Lamb, “Boston Braves the ‘Big Dig,’” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1996; Congressional Research Service, The role of the environmental review process in federally funded highway projects: Background and issues for Congress, April 11, 2012.

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  4. History and cultural impact of the Interstate Highway system,” Landscape Change Program, University of Vermont, 2011.

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  5. United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, Toxic Wastes and Race, 1987.

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  6. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Agency summary of executive order 12898 — Federal actions to address environmental justice in minority populations and low-income populations,” February 16, 1994.

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  7. See, for instance, the follow-up study, The United Church of Christ, Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987—2007, March 2007.

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  8. Nina Lakhani, “'Racism dictates who gets dumped on': how environmental injustice divides the world,” Guardian, October 21, 2019.

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  9. A “covered program” is a federal government program that falls in the scope of the Justice40 Initiative because it includes investments that can benefit disadvantaged communities across one or more of the following seven areas: climate change, clean energy, and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of critical clean water and wastewater infrastructure. For more information: The White House, “ICYMI: Biden-⁠Harris administration announces additional covered programs for inclusion in the Justice40 initiative,” press release, July 26, 2022.

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  10. The White House, “What is the Justice40 Initiative?,” accessed December 2, 2022.

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  11. Remarks by Shalanda Baker, director of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, at the Institute for Policy Integrity Conference: Institute for Policy Integrity, “Advancing energy justice: Tools for Justice40 and equitable deep decarbonization,” May 11, 2022.

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  12. Brady Dennis, “EPA unveils new office to place environmental justice at agency’s core,” The Washington Post, September 24, 2022.

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  13. Remarks by Matthew Tejada, director of the Office of Environmental Justice, US Environmental Protection Agency, at the Institute for Policy Integrity Conference: Institute for Policy Integrity, “Advancing energy justice: Tools for Justice40 and equitable deep decarbonization.”

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  14. The White House, “Biden-⁠Harris administration launches version 1.0 of climate and economic justice screening tool, key step in implementing President Biden’s Justice40 initiative,” press release, November 22, 2022.

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  15. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, “Disadvantaged communities,” accessed December 2, 2022; California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, “California climate investments to benefit disadvantaged communities,” accessed December 2, 2022.

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  16. Remarks by Christopher Coes, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, US Department of Transportation,  at the Institute for Policy Integrity Conference: Institute for Policy Integrity, “Advancing energy justice: Tools for Justice40 and equitable deep decarbonization.”

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  17. US Department of Energy, “Energy justice mapping tool - Disadvantaged communities reporter,” accessed December 2, 2022.

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  18. World Economic Forum, State of the Connected World: 2020 Edition, December 2020, p. 8.

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  19. Claudia Marquina, “How low-Earth orbit satellite technology can connect the unconnected,” World Economic Forum, February 18, 2022.

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  20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Environmental Justice Index (EJI) Explorer,” accessed November 28, 2022.

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  21. US Environmental Protection Agency, “EPA now hosting biweekly national environmental justice community engagement calls,” press release, September 27, 2021.

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  22. US Environmental Protection Agency, “Growing grassroots: Building capacity for environmental justice work,” accessed December 2, 2022.

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  23. US Department of Commerce, US Department of Commerce equity action plan, accessed December 2, 2022.

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  24. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “NOAA’s role in environmental justice,” September 29, 2021; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “State of the Science FACT SHEET: Environmental justice,” July 30, 2021.

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  25. University of California Los Angeles Luskin Center for Innovation, Making Justice40 a Reality for Frontline Communities: Lessons From State Approaches to Climate and Clean Energy Investments, September 2021; Kristen Soares, “Dear policymakers: Community engagement is critical for climate policy,” Climate XChange, October 8, 2021.

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  26. Adithi Pandit et al., Designing for inclusive engagement: Digital communications for richer community connection, Deloitte Insights, March 24, 2022.

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  27. Tiffany Stecker, “House democrats want to crowdsource Environmental Justice Bill,”Bloomberg, June 27, 2019.

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  28. The White House, “What is the Justice40 Initiative?.”

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  29. Logan Jaffe, “Testing the air to tell a story: How we investigated air pollution near Florida’s Sugar Fields,” ProPublica, July 19, 2021.

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  30. Remarks by Dr. Tony G. Reames, deputy director for Energy Justice at the US Department of Energy,  at the Institute for Policy Integrity Conference: Institute for Policy Integrity, “Advancing energy justice: Tools for Justice40 and equitable deep decarbonization.”

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  31. Patricia Buckley and Monali Samaddar, The more you have, the more you gain: How homeownership and stocks contribute to the wealth gap in America, Deloitte Insights, July 7, 2022.

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  32. Alanna McCargo, “Ginnie Mae embraces crucial role in HUD’s 2022 strategic plan,” Ginnie Mae, March 28, 2022.

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This report would not have been possible without the contributions of many colleagues. Thanks especially go to Erica Iannotti, Charles (Chuck) Alsdorf, Derrick Hiebert, Lelina Chang, Ali Dominguez, Anna McCaffrey, and Peter Jorgensen for the instrumental role each played in helping shape this report. Josh Sawislak, Jerry Johnston, SJ Maxted, Matt Baker, David Mader, Alan Falk, Kelly Batts, Jessica Nadler, Richard Longstaff, Bill Eggers, and Summer White all graciously shared their time and insights, and provided valuable input and assistance along the way.

Cover image by: Neil Webb

Sustainability, Climate, and Equity

Deloitte helps public sector clients address pressing and complex sustainability, climate, and equity challenges. We leverage data analytics, proprietary assets, and innovative technology to improve government organizations’ resilience, enhance their readiness, and drive inclusive growth.

Sally D'Amato

Sally D'Amato

Principal | Government & Public Services


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