Environmental Justice: Infrastructure Investments and Equitable Benefit-Cost Analysis

A deeper look at how benefit-cost analysis is used to determine who receives federal dollars for infrastructure investments


July 21, 2021


12:00–1:00 p.m. ET

Event Details

On July 21, 2021, Resources for the Future and the Urban Institute hosted the fourth event in Exposure, a multi-part webinar series on environmental justice. Government agencies use benefit-cost analysis and related economic decision tools to determine where, what, and who receives federal dollars for infrastructure investments. During this event, experts from a range of scholarly, policy, and advocacy backgrounds discussed “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in the use of these tools as applied to investments in hazard mitigation, climate adaptation, and water infrastructure. They also offered suggestions for how social equity and justice can factor into good financial decisionmaking at all levels of government.


  • Amy Chester, Rebuild by Design
  • Carlos Martín, Urban Institute
  • Chrishelle Palay, Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition
  • Leonard Shabman, Resources for the Future
  • Margaret Walls, Resources for the Future (moderator)

Event Video

Additional Materials

Exposure: An RFF-Urban Institute Series on Environmental Justice

Environmental justice (EJ) is an imperative that is finally getting its national policy due. For many low-income neighborhoods, households of color, tribal communities, and other marginalized groups, environmental injustice compounds a legacy of social, economic, and political disenfranchisement. Recent presidential executive orders, appointments, and proposed legislation acknowledge the disproportionate burdens of negative environmental conditions and exposures, and reduced access to environmental benefits and amenities, placed on these populations.

Since the groundbreaking Toxic Wastes and Race and Dumping in Dixie published in the late 1980s first brought EJ issues to the fore, scholars have supported activists and journalists by investigating the mechanisms that create and perpetuate environmental inequities and exclusion and quantifying the extent of the problems. This combined scholarship and advocacy has led to improved monitoring and outcome tracking and some progress in finding solutions to persistent pollution problems. But inequities persist—and as the United States begins to reckon with the climate crisis, designing climate policies that benefit all communities will be imperative.

RFF and the Urban Institute are hosting this webinar series on the current state of EJ research across disciplines, examining how research can inform policy and identifying remaining gaps in knowledge. With panels of experts from the research and EJ advocacy communities, we will take a deep dive into issues related to cumulative environmental impacts, EJ screening tools, energy equity and transitions, benefit-cost analysis and regulatory design, disaster and climate adaptation, and the design of climate policies. The series will also ask how research can inform better policy design and public investments to remedy inequities, past and present.


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