Phase I of the study, which is now complete, builds upon the previous spatial analysis and research done at the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. This analysis examined and identified the most vulnerable communities in Vermont. We identify vulnerable or EJ communities as communities that have disproportionate exposure to environmental burdens, health burdens and are demographically vulnerable (people of color and/or low income) in Vermont.
The 20 communities identified include:
- 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
Building upon our spatial analysis, the Phase II of this project will involve community based participatory research and action in the 20 underserved communities. The goal of this phase is to understand how members of these communities experience environmental and health burdens. In particular, we ask: how are environmental services such as energy, food, water, housing and outdoor and indoor hazards disproportionately distributed in these communities. We also seek to determine what challenges Vermonters face, in terms of access, inclusion, and participation, in the state.
Our methods for community engagement in Phase II will be conducted in three different ways: in-depth interviews, community surveys, and selected community panels.
- Community Panels: Based on our findings from the spatial analysis, we will conduct 6 community panels in Rutland, Bennington, Winooski/Burlington, Franklin County, Barre, and the Northeast Kingdom. Group discussions will cover multiple topics and community members will have the opportunity to openly discuss their shared experiences. These panels will consist of 12-15 community members that deliberate on information presented and propose solutions to advance EJ policy formulation. Panels will be held from July – Dec of 2019.
- Community Surveys: Community surveys will be conducted door-to-door (n=100) in each of the targeted communities. The information collected will provide a quantitative understanding of environmental and health concerns as well as barriers to engagement and participation. We will also conduct surveys at the events put together by Migrant Justice, Refugee Resettlement Program, and AALV. Surveys will be held throughout the year between July – Dec 2019.
- 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. Interviews will be held throughout the year between July – Dec 2019.
We will let the participants know while collecting data that the results of the study will be reported back following spring or summer. We will solicit feedback on ways to address the identified issues of concern in their communities.
Our project will also host a forum that will include representatives from the Agency of Agriculture, the Agency of Natural Resources, the Agency of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health, and impacted communities. The forum will work collaboratively with agency representatives to examine and process the results from the research activities, identify potential areas of overlap in EJ work, initiate larger discussion on how best to incorporate EJ into state policies, and solicit suggestions on designing meaningful policy.
Phase III of the project will occur after all data collection and community discussions have been completed. We will compile and transcribe all the listening sessions, interviews, and surveys to be analyzed by our partners. A draft report for the project, which will include relevant findings and conclusions will then be made available to stakeholders.
Following the culmination of data, our community and policy partners will draft policy recommendations for state agencies addressing environmental justice. Phase IV will involve returning to affected communities and providing a platform for meaningful engagement with state officials and other stakeholders. The policy recommendations will aim to account for community concerns, propose agency practices for addressing concerns collaboratively, and foster public participation and transparency.