By Sabrina Johnson
Communities across the country benefit from access to consumer goods, but near-port communities bear a disproportionate burden from the environmental impacts of port activities. It has been well documented that ports and related industry operations frequently impact minority and low-income communities. Near-port communities may experience disproportionate health outcomes due to cumulative environmental exposures from port operations and port-related facilities. Air pollutants are found in higher concentrations along roads and corridors where there is significant truck or rail activity (https://www3.epa.gov/otaq/nearroadway.htm). Important corridors such as these are found within or near ports. An analysis in one study showed that millions of people living in the vicinity of 47 ports were exposed to diesel particulate matter levels that were above levels in areas farther from these facilities.
Equipping/empowering overburdened near-port communities to effectively engage with ports and participate in decision-making about environmental, health, and other community-driven concerns associated with port-related activities and corresponding freight transport is a critical component for effectively addressing environmental problems in these communities. We can do this by improving environmental performance at ports and equipping industry and community stakeholders with information, skills, and guidance to develop and implement collaborative solutions that reduce air pollutants and other environmental impacts.
And that's why we're excited to let you know about EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality's near-port community capacity building project and how you can get involved! The project involves broad stakeholder outreach and participation that has resulted in the development of strategies, tools and information for near-port community and port engagement. Pilot projects will test and refine the capacity building tools to help communities and ports to develop effective collaboration.
The centerpiece of the project is the Capacity Building Toolkit consisting of:
Ports primer for communities: An interactive tool and reference document provides an overview of planning and operations at ports, and characterizes the port industry sector – including environmental and community health impacts associated with port activities. Case studies provide further exploration into challenges and approaches for resolution.
- Community action roadmap: An implementation companion for the Ports Primer that provides a step-by-step process for building capacity and preparing community stakeholders to engage nearby port facilities and influence decision-making on issues that may impact local land use, environmental health, quality of life, and other associated issues of community interest.
- Environmental justice primer for ports: Designed to inform the port industry sector of the perspectives, priorities, and challenges often unique to communities with EJ concerns. In addition to orienting the port sector about EJ considerations, this resource is structured to provide step-by-step guidance to improve the effectiveness of port/community engagement in addressing concerns of impacted residential communities.
You can review and provide comments on the draft tools, which are posted for public comment until September 14, 2016. Click here to access draft tools: www.epa.gov/ports-initiative
Additionally, ports and near-port communities can apply through our website to become a pilot project location to test and refine the draft capacity building tools and associated processes. Applications are also due September 14, 2016. Direct technical assistance to community and industry stakeholders will be provided during the pilot projects. To apply for the pilot opportunity: www.epa.gov/ports-initiative/pilot-opportunities-port-and-near-port-community-collaboration.
Please take time to review these materials, provide comments, and apply to submit your community or port for a pilot project. Only through robust engagement, innovation and collaboration can we achieve our shared vision to improve environmental health outcomes for communities affected by ports and associated goods movement facilities.
About the Author: Sabrina Johnson is a Senior Policy Analyst in the EPA's Office of Transportation & Air Quality (OTAQ). She leads OTAQ's Near-port Community Capacity Building Project and played a principal role in planning the “National Conversation on Ports” webinar listening sessions and the “National Port Stakeholders Summit.” She also participates on the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group Goods Movement Committee.