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Barriers and opportunities to incorporating environmental justice in the National Environmental Policy act

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Environmental justice, which seeks to achieve equity in the process and outcomes of environmental policy and decision-making, is a broadly recognized policy objective. As a foundational environmental regulation and opportunity for public engagement with federal decision-making, the United States' National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is frequently considered a promising venue for addressing environmental justice. While environmental justice has been a recognized consideration within the NEPA process since the 1990s, it is by no means a streamlined process. Understanding the barriers and opportunities to better incorporation of EJ principles in NEPA review processes is critical for understanding how to move from EJ as a concept to actual implementation. Drawing on interviews with federal agencies, project developers, nongovernmental organizations, and other organizations who contributed to NEPA reviews for projects across the US, this paper explores how environmental justice–specifically procedural, distributive, and recognition justice–is currently addressed in the preparation of Environmental Impact Statements and identifies barriers and opportunities for better inclusion. We find that many NEPA practitioners see NEPA as a valuable tool for achieving procedural and distributive justice. However, a number of institutional and organizational barriers exist, most prominently a structure that hinders opportunities for meaningful public engagement, ambiguity in how distributive justice is defined and implemented, and a lack of substantive requirements for potential distributional inequities to be addressed.

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