Environmental Practice


ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Accounting for Diversity in Environmental Justice Screening Tools: Toward Multiple Indices of Disproportionate Impact

Ryan Holifield 

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin


To comply with President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12898 addressing environmental justice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working for over two decades to develop consistent indices and screening tools to measure disproportionate impact and identify environmental justice communities. Its efforts have been complicated by methodological problems, divergent interpretations of policy, and concerns about the misuse of such screening tools. This review of recent scholarship and developments in EPA environmental justice policy proposes that instead of a single index of disproportionate impact associated with a single type of environmental justice community, regulatory agencies should aim to produce screening tools that incorporate multiple indices of impact and a diverse typology of environmental justice communities. It argues that adopting such an approach would not only better reflect the environmental justice movement’s emphasis on difference and diversity, but also produce more effective and acceptable screening tools that are less susceptible to misuse.

Environmental Practice 16: 77–86 (2014)

(Received January 29 2013)

(Revised May 28 2013)

(Accepted June 03 2013)


Address correspondence to: Ryan Holifield¸ Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, PO Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201; (phone) 1-414-229-4868; (fax) 1-414-229-3981; (e-mail) holifiel@uwm.edu.

Ryan Holifield, who holds a PhD in geography from the University of Minnesota and an MA in geography from the University of Georgia, is an Assistant Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. His research and teaching focus primarily on environmental justice, human health risk assessment in tribal territory, and related issues of environmental governance and policy. He has published several articles on environmental justice in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund remedial program and has served as coeditor of Spaces of Environmental Justice (Wiley, 2010) with Michael Porter and Gordon Walker. He is currently involved in research projects examining inequities in volunteer activity at urban parks, the politics of economic justice in brownfield redevelopment, the social and ecological dynamics of urban river alteration and transformation, and stakeholder participation in Great Lakes Areas of Concern.