Identifying disadvantaged communities in the United States: An energy-oriented mapping tool that aggregates environmental and socioeconomic burdens
This paper defines a policy-relevant nationwide composite index to identify communities disproportionately impacted by environmental, energy, and climate injustices in the United States. We review existing vulnerability indicators and indices to assess the tradeoffs of different design parameters, including variable selection, geographic unit, dimensionality reduction, weighting, and aggregation methods. From this methodological review, we create the first nationwide, census tract-level index of cumulative burden that includes energy-relevant indicators alongside climate, social, environmental, and economic indicators, and is flexible to the inclusion of additional data sources. We provide a summary of the sources of inputs used to develop a definition for “disadvantaged communities” that can be used to prioritize energy investments. We discuss use-cases for this index including the implementation of the Justice40 Initiative, which calls for 40 % of certain federal clean energy benefits to flow to disadvantaged communities in the United States. We use our results to examine historic allocations of federal energy investments and show that communities that we identify as disadvantaged received about 37 % fewer funds per capita than non-disadvantaged communities.