Environmental screening tool in the US

Interactive map on environmental justice in the United States

Published on: 28/04/2022

Back in February, the White House published a beta version of an open source environmental justice tool that features an interactive map of communities in the United States and indicators on climate change, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit and others. 

Based on an advanced formula it identifies disadvantaged communities that are marginalised, underserved and overburdened by pollution in order to inform policymakers' decisions related to climate in the Justice40 initiative. This initiative aims to provide 40 percent of benefits of certain Federal investments in seven key categories to these communities: 

  • Climate change,
  • clean energy and energy efficiency, 
  • clean transit, 
  • affordable and sustainable housing, 
  • training and workforce development, 
  • the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, 
  • and the development of critical clean water infrastructure.
An example of how the interactive map is used, presenting Shelby County, Tennessee
An example of the use of the map on Shelby County, Tennessee

The software is open source and engages citizens through a public online group, monthly community chats and is run by a small core team consisting of designers, developers and product managers from the US Digital Service (USDS) in partnership with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

As stated on the project’s GitHub:

“The Justice40 team is taking a community-first and open source approach to the product development of this tool. We believe government software should be made in the open and be built and licensed such that anyone can take the code, run it themselves without paying money to third parties or using proprietary software, and use it as they will.”

The project has been run with a strong collaboration with a diverse community of citizens, developers and environmentalists, and some have highlighted that the core team could have been more transparent about the methodology behind choices while creating the tool such as which indicators to include, and that the open source efforts were not promoted sufficiently to attract all relevant stakeholders, such as data scientists working on similar tools on a state level. The working methods and tools for the project are constantly reevaluated. The current feedback period has been extended until 25 May and community members are invited to provide their input.

The tool has been created following the presidential Executive Order 14008 on Tackling Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The main target groups are federal program managers and community members who want to explore data about communities across the U.S. The tool is available on the project's site.