Environmental Justice at the Department of Transportation
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Historically, the federal government has played a significant role in isolating and displacing Black and brown communities through highway expansion and the design and distribution of transit resources. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has recognized this history, and committed to ensuring federal transportation funding and policies do not reinforce racial and economic inequality. Now communities are looking to see whether the Secretary’s statements will translate into concrete reforms and meaningful outcomes.
In the first six months of the administration, the Department of Transportation has assumed an early leadership role in implementing Biden’s whole-of-government approach to environmental justice. These efforts include establishing new teams to inform the agency’s Racial Equity plan, and ensuring that agency funds take “racial equity” into account. These and other actions are detailed below.
This is not a comprehensive list. For more information on DOT funding opportunities, visit DOT’s Grants page or Grants.gov.
- Jan. 27, 2023: DOT announces nearly $1.7 billion in competitive grants through the Low or No Emission Grant Program ($1.2 billion) and the Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program ($470 million). This funding is available to state and local transit agencies to replace older, fossil fuel-powered bus fleets with zero- or low-emission buses and supporting charging equipment and facilities. DOT will prioritize projects that advance environmental justice under the Justice40 Initiative, and will require 5% of grants for zero emission projects to be used for workforce development and training. DOT predicts that the program will double the number of zero-emission buses nationwide in its first year.
- Jan. 9, 2023 DOT announces a new funding opportunity to help improve transportation in neighborhoods experiencing “long-term economic distress,” through its Areas of Persistent Poverty (AoPP) program. $20 million is available in grant funding to eligible applicants from Areas of Persistent Poverty (AoPP) or Historically Disadvantaged Communities (HDC). Identify these areas using DOT’s mapping tool. Applications are due by Mar. 10, 2023 on grants.gov. Funding Opp. No. FTA-2023-00-TPE.
- Dec. 21, 2023 DOT announces selection of 12 projects to receive nearly $274 million in funding under the new Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program. These projects will focus on reliable and safe transit connectivity and aim to improve the quality of life for rural populations. Follow these links for more information on the grant recipients and the evaluation criteria used.
- Dec. 15, 2022 DOT announces $1.5 billion in grants available through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. These grants are available to state, local, and tribal governments to complete freight and passenger transportation infrastructure projects, with half the funding earmarked for projects in rural areas. Applications must be submitted via grants.gov by Feb. 28, 2023. Funding Opportunity No. DTOS59-23-RA-RAISE.
- Oct. 18, 2022 DOT issues a $21 million Notice of Funding Opportunity for Capacity Builders to support the agency’s Thriving Communities Program. DOT defines “capacity builders” as “non-profit organizations, state or local governments and their agencies … Tribes, philanthropic entities, and other technical assistance providers with a demonstrated capacity to develop and provide technical assistance, planning, and capacity building.” Awards will range between $3.5 and $6 million for each cooperative agreement. Applicants must showcase tools that would enable them to serve all communities within the specific Community of Practice they are assigned to support, and DOT may also select one of the applicants to work specifically with Tribal governments and nations. Applications must be received by Nov. 22, 2022, and can be submitted via grants.gov (Opportunity Number: DOT-TCP-FY22-01).
- October 6, 2022: DOT announces that it is opening applications for more than $1 billion in funding over the next five years to Tribal, state, and local governments under the National Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration-Culvert Aquatic Organism Passage Program. This program was created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program will help communities repair and replace culverts, which can prevent fish passage and harm fisheries. Maintaining healthy fish populations is important for regional biodiversity, and it is critical to many Tribal and coastal communities’ economies and ways of life. Tribes, States, and local governmental agencies are eligible to apply, and must do so by Feb. 6, 2023 through gov (Opportunity Number: FY2022-CULVERT-AOP-PROGRAM).
- Aug. 11, 2022: DOT awards 166 projects totaling more than $2.2 billion under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program. The projects are split evenly between rural and urban areas, with two-thirds located in “areas of persistent poverty or historically disadvantaged communities”. 11 projects include local hire provisions.
- June 29, 2022: DOT posts a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for $195 million for the Reconnecting Communities Program, which seeks to reconnect communities cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure. The NOFO supports both planning grants and capital construction grants, and non-profit organizations are eligible to apply. Matching and cost share requirements apply. Applications are due Oct. 13, 2022 and must be submitted through grants.gov (Opportunity Number: DOT-RCP-FY22-01). For more information about the Reconnecting Communities Program, click here.
- Apr. 11, 2022: The Biden Administration releases a “playbook” for investments in rural communities under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The playbook details funding for DOT programs including more than $875 million in FY22 Formula Grants for Rural Areas, $1 billion overall to improve ferry services in rural areas, $5 billion for clean school buses, and $1.2 billion to improve highways in the Appalachian region.
- Mar. 28, 2022: Secretary Buttigeg announces Biden’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget for DOT, including:
- $1.5 billion for RAISE discretionary grants, with $15 million set aside for Areas of Persistent Poverty or HIstorically Disadvantaged Communities (see the 2022 RAISE NOFO here)
- $110.7 million for the Thriving Communities program, provides technical assistance and capacity building to “disadvantaged communities” to access green energy and infrastructure projects.
- $350 million for the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program
- Over $1 billion to increase electric vehicle charging access, including in rural and underserved communities.
- Mar. 4, 2022: The FTA announces $1.1 billion in competitive grants under the Low or No Emission Grant Program (Low-No), and $372 million under the Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program. FTA will give priority consideration to projects that advance racial equity by employing people who face systemic barriers to employment; proactively addressing barriers to opportunity, including automobile dependence; or redressing prior inequities. Proposals are due through GRANTS.GOV by 11:59pm EST on May 31, 2022. The funding opportunity ID is FTA-2022-001-TPM-LWNO for Low-No, and FTA-2022-002-TPM-BUSC for Buses and Bus Facilities. Read more or learn how to apply or comment here.
- Feb. 16, 2022: The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announces the availability of $8.75 million in competitive grants for the Public Transportation on Indian Reservations (Tribal Transit) Program. Federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native villages are eligible to apply. Applications are due by midnight ET on May 25, 2022. Read more or learn how to apply for Tribal Transit funding here.
- Jan. 28, 2022: DOT announces the availability of an additional $500 million grant funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, for a total of $1.5 billion. In addition to prior criteria, in 2022, RAISE applications will also be evaluated on the criteria of mobility and community connectivity, as well as workforce development. $15 million in funding is guaranteed for projects located in Areas of Persistent Poverty or Historically Disadvantaged Communities. Interested applicants can access the RAISE Notice of Funding Opportunity here. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. EST on April 14, 2022. Selections will be announced by Aug. 12, 2022.
- Dec. 16, 2021: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issues guidance on how transportation funds under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law should be spent. Among the priorities listed, FHWA encourages states, regional, Tribal and local stakeholders to invest in projects that “reconnect communities and reflect the inclusion of disadvantaged and under-represented groups in the planning, project selection, and design process.” FHWA also states that any highway expansion projects that would result in “any residential or non-residential displacements” or have a “significant impact on any natural, cultural, recreational, historic or other resource” will not qualify for a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and thus must undergo an environmental review. The guidance is non-binding on states and other stakeholders.
- Nov. 18, 2021: DOT releases state by state fact sheets for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, highlighting health improvements, improved public transit and renewable fuels access, and future community grants.
- Nov. 15, 2021: As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, DOT will oversee $1 billion as part of the Reconnecting Communities program to remove freeways and rebuild infrastructure destroyed by prior highway construction. The funding will be distributed as competitive grants. $750 million is designated for capital construction; $250 million for community engagement, planning, and capacity building. However, the infrastructure law does not include local employment and anti-gentrification safeguards, which are included in the proposed Build Back Better Act.
- June 30, 2021: DOT announces recipients of the $905.25 million INFRA grant program (described below). 44% of the funds will go to rural projects.
- April 21, 2021: DOT’s Maritime Administration announces $230 million in discretionary grants for states and port authorities. DOT will consider how proposed projects address environmental justice impacts and “advance racial equity, reduce barriers to opportunity, and meet challenges faced by rural areas.” The application deadline is July 30, 2021.
- April 13, 2021: DOT announces a revamped $1 billion discretionary grant fund called Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE), prioritizing “improvements to racial equity.” The application deadline is July 12, 2021.
- Feb. 17, 2021: For the first time, DOT lists racial equity as a key criteria for selecting recipients of $889 million in discretionary grants under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program.
Internal Equity Efforts
- April 14, 2022: DOT releases its first ever Equity Action Plan, as required under Executive Order 13985. The plan emphasizes key strategies including: issuing new guidance on meaningful public involvement including conducting proactive Title VI compliance reviews; launching a national assistance center to support community project development and grant applications; and decreasing cost burdens on underserved communities. The summary of DOT’s Equity Action Plan can also be found here.
- June 25, 2021: DOT hosts an information session summarizing its progress on implementing Biden’s Executive Order on Racial Equity (EO 13895) and soliciting comments on its Request for Information on Transportation Equity Data, due July 22. See the presentation here.
- Feb. 2021: DOT’s newly formed Equity Task Force meets for the first time. The Task Force is made up of senior appointees and is responsible for overseeing DOT’s implementation of Biden’s Executive Order on Racial Equity (EO 13985). DOT also formed an Equity Leadership Team, comprised of DOT career staff who will also be involved in the implementation of EO 13895.
New Initiatives and Policies
- Jan. 10, 2023 The Biden-Harris Administration releases the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization, developed in partnership between DOE, DOT, EPA, and HUD. This Blueprint focuses on addressing the inequities in a transition to a decarbonized transportation system,including high costs and lack of easy access to transportation systems. The agencies will further collaborate with regional, state, and tribal governments, as well as other stakeholders in the private and public sectors to implement the Blueprint.
- Jan. 5, 2023 DOT releases its Research, Development, and Technology Strategic Plan. This plan lays out the agency’s priorities for the next five years, including its goal to expand accessibility and mobility to underserved communities. To advance transportation equity, DOT has identified three key research priorities: i) an equity and accessibility assessment, ii) evaluating innovative mobility technologies and services, and iii) providing technical assistance to small, disadvantaged businesses, HBCUs, and MSIs, for skill development and increased access to opportunities, ultimately contributing to wealth creation in these communities.
- Dec. 6, 2022 DOT re-establishes seven regional centers for the Regional Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP), replacing a single, centralized location. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) under the Trump Administration launched a two-year pilot program to test administering technical assistance from a headquarters location, which concluded in Dec. 2019. These new TTAP centers will serve the 12 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regions, relying on inter-agency coordination to provide tribal communities training and technology services to assist them in accessing federal funding to modernize and strengthen their transportation infrastructure.
- September 27, 2022. DOT announces that it has approved Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment Plans in all fifty states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. These plans will ensure the deployment of electric vehicle (EV) chargers along an additional 75,000 miles of national roadways. To fund that deployment, DOT will rely on multiple sources of funding, including $2.5 billion from the Discretionary Grant Program for Charging and Fueling Infrastructure, and $3 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act. Both of these programs include equity priorities to target “underserved” and “disadvantaged” communities.
- August 18, 2022. DOT announces that it is including 39 programs spread across 5 of its operating administrations in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative. This list will likely expand over time. These programs will direct 40% of their investments to “disadvantaged communities”. For more on Justice40, click here.
- Mar. 31, 2022: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues a final rule announcing new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks (MY 2024-2026). NHTSA anticipates that the rule will result in significant cost savings and reduced GHG and air pollutant emissions from these vehicles, benefiting communities near heavily trafficked roads, which are disproportionately low-income communities of color. The rule will be published in the Federal Register on May 2, 2022.
- Mar. 28, 2022: DOT releases its 2022-26 Strategic Plan, including commitments to reduce inequities in transportation access, affordability, and transit-related public health burdens; support “disadvantaged and rural communities’” access to federal funding programs; and improve partnerships and community engagement in underserved communities. The plan includes performance metrics to assess progress made towards achieving these goals (p. 22), including that all 50 State DOTs and top 100 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) adopt a quantitative Equity Screening component to their transportation improvement program (TIP) development processes by 2030.
- Feb. 2022: While the Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool is in beta, DOT will use an interim definition of “disadvantaged communities” to implement the Justice40 Initiative. DOT’s definition identifies six categories of transportation disadvantage: transportation access disadvantage, health disadvantage, environmental disadvantage, economic disadvantage, resilience disadvantage, and social disadvantage. This definition will be applied to five DOT grant programs: RAISE, the Port Infrastructure Development Program, the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure formula program, America’s Marine Highway Program, and Low or No Emission and Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program. Visit DOT’s website for more information on qualifying communities and informational webinars.
- Jan. 20, 2022: DOE officials announce that the first EV chargers in a new $7.5 billion network of 500,000 total stations may be installed by the end of the year. The network will be developed by DOE and DOT’s new Joint Office of Energy and Transportation. The Joint Office plans to issue joint guidance on how states can access the funding by mid-February. Officials also confirmed that these investments will align with Biden’s Justice40 initiative. For more, see the Biden-Harris Electric Vehicle Charging Action Plan.
- Nov. 17, 2021: Secretaries Buttigieg and Haaland sign a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure sustainable and equitable access to transportation in national parks, including new initiatives to improve public transit access, electrification, and EV charging stations.
- Nov. 9, 2021: The Federal Aviation Administration releases its Climate Action Plan with an emphasis on the co-benefits of adopting new engine technologies and other operational changes, including noise and air emissions reductions in communities neighboring airports.
- Aug. 2021: DOT releases its Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan, including commitments to develop more equitable transportation programs by making public transit more affordable, decreasing transit-related pollution in affected communities, facilitating meaningful public involvement, and improving cultural sensitivity within the department. Comments on the plan can be submitted here and are due Nov. 6, 2021
- April 9, 2021: President Biden’s FY 2022 budget request includes $110M for a new “Thriving Communities” initiative, which would establish a new office within DOT to help communities address persistent transportation barriers.
- July 14, 2021: President Biden appoints Leslie Aguilar as Special Assistant to the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.
- April 14, 2021: President Biden nominates Meera Joshi to become the deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and Christopher Coes to become Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. Joshi formerly served as Commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, where she focused on accessibility. Coes was vice president of land use and development at Smart Growth America, where he focused on transportation and health equity.
For tips on writing public comments and scheduling EO 12866 meetings with OIRA, visit our Public Participation Resources Page.
- Feb. 21, 2023: DOT issues a Request for Information for feedback on its Equitable Transportation Community Explorer and methodology. Formerly called the Transportation Disadvantaged Census Tracts Tool, this spatial mapping tool is used by DOT to determine which census tracts qualify as “disadvantaged” for purposes of implementing the Justice40 Initiative. The Explorer accounts for cumulative burdens on communities due to “underinvestment in transportation” including transportation insecurity, climate and disaster risk, environmental burdens, health vulnerability, and social vulnerability. Comments can be submitted at Regulations.gov (Docket ID No. DOT-OST-2023-0020-0001) and are due Mar. 18, 2023.
- Oct. 13, 2022 DOT releases a guide for funding recipients – Promising Practices for Meaningful Public Involvement in Transportation Decision-Making, in an effort to promote meaningful public engagement. In creating this guide, the agency collected information from transportation stakeholders and communities, and will solicit public comment for future updates to this guide. DOT will also conduct pilot trainings and provide technical assistance around the use and implementation of this guide on Nov. 2, Nov. 9, and Dec. 7, 2022.
- Dec. 29, 2021: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requests public comments on guidance for how states should spend infrastructure funds related to electric vehicle charging station infrastructure. The FHWA is “especially interested in comments suggesting ways that eh guidance could promote equity in the deployment of EV charging infrastructure. Comments are most effective on or before Jan. 28, 2022, though the FHWA will review comments submitted after that date if possible.
- Nov. 29, 2021: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) seeks comments on guidance on how to equitably deploy electric vehicle charging stations. Read more about the proposals and comment here by Jan. 28, 2022. (The agency will consider comments submitted after the deadline to the extent practicable).
- Nov. 9 and 16, 2021: DOT will host two virtual public meetings seeking input on its Justice40 framework. The meeting on Nov. 9 will introduce Justice40 and discuss the benefits of transit investments to disadvantaged communities (registration link here). The meeting on Nov. 16 will assume prior knowledge of DOT programs and funding mechanisms, and seek input from participants on the types of data and metrics DOT should use in its Justice40 framework (registration link here).
- Nov. 8, 2021: The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposes to suspend transporting liquified natural gas (LNG) via rail in order to research the associated risks and benefits. DOT is seeking public comment on public and worker safety, environmental risks, and environmental justice concerns. To learn more about the LNG-by-Rail rule, see EELP’s Regulatory Tracker page. Submit a comment on the proposed rule by Dec. 23 here.
- Nov. 3, 2021: DOT issues a request for information on implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and DOT’s own Title VI regulations (49 CFR pt 21) particularly with regards to “public participation, service and fare equity, facility equity analyses, implementation of rider conduct policies” and tools for determining and documenting disparate impacts. The agency is seeking feedback from transit agencies, riders and community members, planning officials, States, cities, and the private sector. Comments are due Due. 3, 2021. Read submitted comments or submit your own here.
- May 25, 2021: DOT posts a Request for Information on Transportation Equity Data. Comments are due by July 22, 2021. See the docket and browse submitted comments here.