TRAVERSE CITY – The Traverse City area is famous for its clean water and air. But how do local communities and your neighborhood rank on the environmental justice scale?

A new online tool available to all Michiganders provides these answers and more.

The Michigan Environmental Justice Mapping and Screening Tool (MiEJScreen), released in draft form, is an easy-to-use application for public access to environmental, health, and socioeconomic information. Integrated state and federal data provides snapshots of all 2,813 census tracts in the state. Each sector, made up of approximately 4,000 citizens, identifies places disproportionately affected by environmental threats.

The free interactive app was developed by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s Office of the Public Defender of Environmental Justice (EGLE) in cooperation with the Interagency Data and Environmental Justice Response Team research. Citizens can explore the tool and offer feedback until May 16.

The tool is long overdue, said Jim Olson, founder and chief legal counsel of the Traverse City-based environmental advocacy organization For Love of Water (FLOW).

“Public participation, accountability, access to government, including affordability, has been lacking,” Olson said. “It is a fundamental problem that has created the need for the tool and the commitment, evident from this effort, to change the culture of government from operating as a business or corporation to operating as a service or a public servant.”

MiEJScreen, two years in development, empowers individuals, businesses, government and organizations in decision making and development. It includes 26 statewide indicators used to rank people’s vulnerability to environmental pollution. Included are proximities to hazardous sites, altered waters, pollutant releases, socio-economic data related to susceptibility to health risk factors.

MiEJScreen provides a broader context to assess the risk picture. “The state has an industrial past and there are a lot of environmental sites,” said environmental justice advocate Regina Strong. “Taken individually, we see it in a way. Together we see the volume.

Strong noted Michigan’s history of environmental racism. While it is not possible to erase history, MiEJScreen strives to advance the fair treatment and meaningful development of laws, regulations and policies affecting the environments where people live, work and play.

“This tool moves EGLE to a place where it’s better equipped for all Michiganders,” Strong said.

John Petoskey is an associate attorney at Earthjustice’s Midwest Regional Office in Chicago and a member of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. He is a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and of the Chippewa Indians who grew up on the Peshawbestown Reserve.

Petoskey said environmental justice for tribes in northern Michigan means access to traditional hunting and fishing territories that provide food and income, as well as access to tribal cultural sites. He would like to see MiEJScreen address the preservation of tribal heritage.

“Projects impacting tribes in the past have been pushed by the state. Treaties have not been considered,” Petoskey said. He hopes this tool will lead to greater recognition of needs and rights. tribes when issuing future permits.

“I approach this tool with an open mind. I think EGLE and the governor are interested in moving forward,” he said. “It remains to be seen whether this will increase justice and eliminate harm.”

Citizens are encouraged to explore the www.michigan.gov/egle app. Because its power to create a better and fairer Michigan is in the hands of the users.

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