This initial phase builds upon the work done by our research core at the University of Vermont, whose spatial analysis identified the state’s most vulnerable communities. These are communities who not only bear disproportionate environmental and health burdens, but are also demographically vulnerable (frequently BIPOC and/or low-income people). The 20 communities identified included:
Winooski/Essex/Greater Burlington in Chittenden County
St Albans/Grand Isle/Highgate in Franklin and Grand Isle counties
Barre in Washington county
Windsor/Rockingham/Springfield/ in Windsor County
Brighton/Barton/Greensboro/Newport in Northeast Kingdom
Phase two focuses on participatory research in the 20 vulnerable communities identified during phase one. The goal of this phase is to understand how members of these communities experience environmental and health burdens.
In particular, we ask how environmental services like energy, food, water, housing, and outdoor/indoor hazards are disproportionately distributed. We also ask what challenges people face when trying to access state services and participate in democratic processes.
We have three main methods for doing participatory research: in-depth interviews, community surveys, and community conversations.
Community Panels: we will hold six community conversations in Rutland, Newport, Bennington, Winooski/Burlington, Rockport, and Enosburg. Attendees will be invited to discuss their experiences and share their ideas for EJ policies. We will compensate folk for transportation costs, offer free childcare, and provide a locally-catered dinner.
Community Surveys: Surveys are conducted door-to-door with about a hundred people in each of the six communities. These will help us get a quantitative understanding of environmental and health challenges, as well as barriers to accessing the state. We will also conduct surveys at the events put together by Migrant Justice, Refugee Resettlement Program, and AALV.
In-Depth Interviews and Observations: Interviews will be conducted with members from the target communities, community organizations, state agencies, businesses, and policymakers in the state. We will also do site visits of state industries, mobile home park communities, landfill sites and other places of concern that pose an environmental health risk.
We let all participants know that we will report study results back during the following spring and summer. We ask for feedback on ways to address challenges in their communities.
After we complete all the data collection and community discussions, we will start phase three. First we will compile and transcribe all the listening sessions, interviews, and surveys. Using this information, we will write a draft report containing important findings and recommendations, to be shared out with stakeholders.
After receiving feedback on our draft report, we will write a series of recommendations off of which the DEC can base their EJ policy. These recommendations will highlight community concern and suggest ways in which environmental agencies can address these concerns. They will also lay the foundation for a more transparent and open democratic process, centering the communities who have the most at stake.