Environmental Justice Program

What is Environmental Justice?

The principles of environmental justice call for fairness, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, and the meaningful involvement of community in the development of laws and regulations that affect every community’s natural surroundings, and the places people live, work, play and learn.

California was one of the first states in the nation to codify environmental justice in statute. Community leaders in the environmental justice movement work to meaningfully include communities disproportionately impacted by pollution in decision-making processes. The aim is to lift the unfair burden of pollution from those most vulnerable to its effects (for more information, please visit CalEnviroScreen, the first mapping tool to document cumulative impacts).

EJ in Action:  CalEPA works with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to achieve environmental justice through various efforts, such as: 

  • Working with our six boards, departments and offices to implement EJ principles in our internal and public missions (to learn more, please click on our summary report here and our story map here).
  • Uplifting and investing in community science – this includes prioritizing data collected by the community, for the community (see below for examples).
  • Collaborating with the Racial Equity Team to ensure public health, improve and maintain environmental quality, and vitalize the green economy for all Californians.
  • Partnering with the EJ Liaisons, who listen to community concerns and advocate for advancing equity within government for all Californians. The Liaisons work to ensure meaningful involvement of community in decision-making, implement programs supportive of EJ, and support policy development to advance EJ.
  • Distributing EJ Grants to community organizations and federally-recognized Tribes impacted by environmental pollution. 
  • Updating the Disadvantaged Communities Designation to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and safeguard our communities from the mounting risks related to that pollution.

Community Science

CalEnviroScreen is a screening tool used to identify California communities disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution. To improve the accuracy of border-region data, CalEPA works closely with community partners to understand and address CalEnviroScreen data gaps. The following community science projects are examples of ground-truthing government data:

  • The San Ysidro Air Study was a 2-year collaboration between the San Ysidro community in San Diego, state government, and academia to collect neighborhood air pollution data using advanced low-cost technology. The partnership was critical to the success of the project. Through community science and civic participation, residents were decision makers.
  • Water Quality Assessment for Rural Communities in Imperial County:  The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and CalEPA are working with Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc. to assess canal water used for domestic purposes. Efforts are tailored to community concerns and to inform CalEnviroScreen.


Updated Disadvantaged Communities Designation (May 3, 2022)

CalEPA finalized in May 2022 the updated Designation of Disadvantaged Communities, pursuant to Senate Bill 535 (De León, 2012) and based on the recently updated CalEnviroScreen version 4.0. After holding two public workshops and considering all comments submitted on the Preliminary Designation, which was released in October 2021, CalEPA formally designates four categories of geographic areas as disadvantaged: 

  1. Census tracts receiving the highest 25 percent of overall scores in CalEnviroScreen 4.0
  2. Census tracts lacking overall scores in CalEnviroScreen 4.0 due to data gaps, but receiving the highest 5 percent of CalEnviroScreen 4.0 cumulative pollution burden scores 
  3. Census tracts identified in the 2017 DAC designation, regardless of their scores in CalEnviroScreen 4.0
  4. Lands under the control of federally recognized Tribes

For detailed explanation of each of the categories, please read the document:

English: Final Designation of Disadvantaged Communities Pursuant to Senate Bill 535 May 2022PDF download.

Español: Designación Final de Comunidades Desfavorecidas de Acuerdo con La Ley del Senado 535

Pollution Burden Mapping – CalEnviroScreen Version 4.0 

CalEnviroScreen is the state’s environmental health screening tool that can has been used to help identify and address California communities that are disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution. Developed by CalEPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), it is an important tool in meeting CalEPA’s commitment to environmental justice for all. This latest version was released on October 13, 2021. You can read more about it in the press release, visit OEHHA’s CalEnviroScreen webpage or scroll down to explore the maps.

En espanol: Puede leer más sobre esto en el comunicado de prensa, visite la página web de OEHHA CalEnviroScreen, o explorar los resultados de CalEnviroScreen por tramo censal individual o por indicador.

In this update:  

  • All indicators contain the most recent available data.
  • There are improvements in the way some indicators are calculated to better reflect environmental conditions or population vulnerability to pollution.
  • One new indicator, Children’s Lead Risk from Housing, accounts for possible lead exposure from paint and other sources in or around the home.

Environmental Justice Grants 

In 2023, CalEPA launched the Environmental Justice Actions Grants Program to address environmental injustices impacting California Native American Tribes, low-income communities, and communities of color by funding actions on four key areas of concern: supporting emergency preparedness; protecting public health; improving environmental and climate decision-making; and strengthening enforcement.

The CalEPA Environmental Justice (EJ) Small Grants help eligible nonprofit (501(c)(3) IRS tax designated) community organizations and federally-recognized Tribal governments to address environmental justice issues in areas disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and hazards. The maximum grant amount is $50,000.