Part-time graduate students at Johns Hopkins gave a complex environmental policy-making tool a test run this semester in an area of central Prince George's County with an unusually high number of landfills. They presented their results on April 30 to the state of Maryland's Commission for Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities.
The tool the students tested is a "process for analyzing environmental justice issues in communities," according to Eileen McGurty, associate chair of the part-time graduate program in environmental sciences and policy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
"Basically, the framework structures a method for analyzing a problem," said McGurty, who taught Practicum in Environmental Planning, the class for which students did the work. "They're trying to develop a process through which they can work toward assuring that there is environmental justice."
Students in the class began the framework process by talking to residents of the area to assess their environmental concerns.
"The commission wanted to start the process with the community's concerns rather than by imposing concerns upon the community," said Michael Williams, a student in the master's in environmental sciences and policy program.
Prime concerns for the residents included the impacts on health and property values of the 18 landfills in the area, as well as the landfills' effects on the aesthetics of the area where they lived.
McGurty's students also gathered data on the community, including analyzing statistics about the socio-economic status, environmental problems, health issues and mapping of landfill areas. They made a 45-minute presentation on April 30 to an audience of approximately 30 people, both commission members and members of the general public.
"We told them that the framework needs to be developed further so there's more support for the community to use in a meaningful way," McGurty said. "They were grateful for our input and told me they felt the students' work was vital to their ability to take the next step in developing the framework process."
McGurty said she and her students were committed to continue working on the framework and with the community.
"Once you do work that's community-oriented, you can't leave it alone until it's completed," Williams agreed.