Thought Leadership

California Proposes Updates to Environmental Justice Tool CalEnviroScreen

Client Updates

On February 22, 2021, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”) released for comment and input a draft update to CalEnviroScreen, which is an online database and calculation system that produces a score for each of the State’s 8,000 census tracts’ “environmental vulnerability” to pollutants.  California regulators use CalEnviroScreen scores to make policy and enforcement decisions—with the ultimate goal of reducing inequity among California’s residents to pollution and environmental hazards.

CalEnviroScreen is used to identify impacted communities entitled to enhanced air monitoring and emissions reduction plans under Assembly Bill 617’s Community Air Protection Program.  Communities with the highest CalEnviroScreen scores (i.e., those that are the most burdened by pollution) also receive higher shares of California Climate Investments from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, along with the potential to receive additional benefits from climate investment programs.  Depending on how the proposed updates change the CalEnviroScreen scores, regulators may increase scrutiny on certain industries or geographic regions. These changes could also have a broader impact, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) often models CalEnviroScreen changes in its own tool, EJScreen.

CalEnviroScreen utilizes data on various “indicators” to assess the vulnerability of a given community by taking data on these indicators and calculating a vulnerability score.  These indicators include:

  • Exposure indicators, such as air pollution, water contaminants, pesticides, toxic waste, and transit pollutants;
  • Environment indicators, such as land and water cleanup sites, hazardous waste generators and facilities, and solid waste facilities;
  • Sensitive population indicators, such as rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and low infant birth weight; and
  • Socioeconomic indicators, such as education level, linguistic isolation, poverty, unemployment, and housing quality.

The updates in version 4.0 include:

  • updating data on all indicators to include more recent information;

  • improving calculation methods for some indicators, such as:
    • enhancing selection criteria for water contaminants,
    • adding pesticides in the pesticide use indicator,
    • adding data on dairies and feedlots for the groundwater threat indicator,
    • adding data on chrome metal plating facilities to the hazardous waste indicator,
    • improving methodologies for the particulate matter 2.5 and diesel matter air quality indicators, including data on air pollutants originating in Mexico; and
  • adding a new indicator for children’s risk to lead exposure.

Companies may wish to evaluate how CalEnviroScreen’s proposed updates, which are expected to be finalized this summer, may impact their business operations in California.  For more information about the risks and opportunities to business operations more generally from environmental justice issues, please register for Baker Botts’ March 25, 2021 webinar What You Need in Your Corporate EJ Toolkit, which will discuss the importance of CalEnviroScreen and other key state and local environmental justice initiatives.

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