CalEPA Updates Environmental Health Screening Tool

State environment officials released an updated version of California’s environmental health screening tool, CalEnviroScreen, on August 14, 2014. The tool will be used to inform the investment of more than $200 million in state cap-and-trade auctions allocated specifically for disadvantaged communities. These funds can help cities either indirectly minimize pollution by, for example, diverting heavy truck traffic or it can be spent directly in the community by planting trees, providing affordable housing near transit lines, or improving energy efficiency in homes.

Developed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) at the request of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), CalEnviroScreen is a science-based tool that identifies the California communities most burdened by pollution and most vulnerable to its effects.

CalEnviroScreen uses data on 12 types of pollution and environmental factors in addition to seven population characteristics and socioeconomic factors to create a comprehensive score for each area. These scores help determine communities that are most directly impacted by a variety of types of environmental conditions, rather than looking at each pollutant or factor in isolation.

The tool will be used to help implement a state law (SB 535) that requires 25 percent of proceeds from cap-and-trade auctions be invested in projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. At least 10 percent of the state’s funds must also be allocated for projects located within these communities. CalEPA is responsible for identifying these areas.

CalEPA also plans to use CalEnviroScreen to administer its Environmental Justice Small Grant Program. The tool is also helping prioritize resources for cleanup and abatement projects and outreach efforts by CalEPA’s boards and departments.

Changes made to CalEnviroScreen include adding new indicators for drinking water contaminants and unemployment rates. The new version also uses census tracts because they are more uniform in population, better align with local government boundaries, and have more detailed demographic data.

When ranked, the top 15 of California’s 20 most disadvantaged communities were in Fresno County. The remaining neighborhoods highly affected by both environmental and economic challenges were located in Bakersfield, Los Angeles, El Monte, San Bernardino, and Ontario.

“CalEnviroScreen shows clearly what we in the San Joaquin Valley know all too well: that many of our communities are among the most disadvantaged in the state,” said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. “By reinvesting funds in areas of the state with high pollution levels, California is demonstrating its commitment to a cleaner and more prosperous future for all.”

CalEnviroScreen was developed through an extensive public review process. Before finalizing the latest version, CalEPA and OEHHA held several workshops across the state. These agencies are committed to continuing to revise and improve the tool through an open and public process.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti added that, “Government must break free from the status quo and continuously refine and improve the way it solves problems in our communities. This update of CalEnviroScreen is a critical example of that work and will help create healthier neighborhoods across Los Angeles and California.”

CalEPA, OEHHA, and the Air Resources Board will conduct three public workshops later this month to discuss the investment of cap-and-trade funds proceeds in disadvantaged communities. The workshops will be held on August 25 in Fresno, August 26 in Los Angeles, and September 3 in Oakland.

More information about these workshops can be found here.