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The R.E.J.O.I.C.E. Project

About the Project

Vermont is one of eight states in the country that does not have a statewide environmental justice (EJ) policy. According to the EPA, environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Without the recognition of environmental justice in policy discussion in Vermont, it is hard to know what type of injustices exist within our state and who they affect. It also means that Vermonters lack the legal and political protections against environmental injustice.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has acknowledged this discrepancy and has taken the lead to build an EJ policy as a part of the Environmental Justice 2020 Action Agenda and EPA Performance Agreement Plan (2016-2020). On October 3, 2018, some of our project partners met with the DEC Commissioner and the EPA. We collectively discussed a collaborative approach to designing an EJ policy that stems from community-based research and action. This project is designed to further these state goals to identify and articulate how Vermonters experience environmental injustices, which will ultimately help craft a community-informed EJ policy.

Covered bridge in Bennington crossing a river contaminated with PFOA.

The demographics and rural setting of this state can hide environmental injustices in our communities. Although 94.5% of Vermonters identify as white, according to the 2016 American community survey, issues of water quality, indoor air quality, energy affordability, transportation access, food insecurity, and associated health risks may still disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations in the state.  We seek to hear directly from these communities to identify the unseen environmental injustice issues in Vermont.

This project, with the help of our partner organizations,  will focus on the three activities of community engagement, policy development, and research to identify, engage, and address EJ issues among impacted communities in Vermont. Partner roles are as follows:

  • Research Core: Bindu Panikkar, of the University of Vermont,  will oversee the community-based research, which includes spatial analysis to identify inequities, in-depth community surveys, interviews, community panels, and participatory mapping with local participants, and an analysis on structural inequities that drive disparities.
  • Community Core: Kesha Ram, from the Center for Whole Communities (CWC), will be the lead project administrator and organizer. CWC, together with Toxics Action Center and the Vermont Mobile Home Program, will facilitate planning, outreach, and relationship-building with partners and grassroots community groups. This will occur through participation in community panels, surveys, participatory mapping, and other EJ convenings. 
  • Policy Core: Jennifer Byrne and Jennifer Rushlow, of the Vermont Law School, will provide a legal review of EJ in the state, as well as provide legal resources to impacted communities. Our partners at Vermont law school will continue to conduct research and comparative analysis for state level EJ policies. We then hope to translate these principles into policy that meets Vermont’s unique needs.

The information collected in this project through the interviews, door-to-door surveys, and community panels will provide evidence-based accounts of environmental injustice and where they exist. We also hope to use this information to identify gaps in the state’s legal and policy resources in order to meet the needs of these communities. Our findings in this project will be addressed during the next legislative session (Spring 2020) and we will work to bring EJ issues to the forefront of policy discussion to create a statewide EJ policy. 

This project is the first comprehensive statewide analysis within this lens in Vermont, that is designed to help address the needs of these communities within local capacity building, resilience, and policy making.