Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Bindu Panikkar


The environmental justice (EJ) movement was initiated in the United States in the 1980s. The early focus of the movement addressed environmental racism and disproportionate exposure to pollution among communities of color and low income populations. It later evolved to include multiple dimensions of social injustice in the natural and built environment, such as food, transportation, housing, recreational spaces, and more. In this study, we used spatial analysis to identify Vermont’s environmentally vulnerable communities. We also used quantitative and qualitative methods to understand food and transportation justice in these vulnerable communities.

For the spatial analysis, we developed the Vermont Environmental Disparity Index (VTEDI) to measure the cumulative impacts of environmental risk, social vulnerability, and health risk in Vermont. In addition to exploring regions with high cumulative impacts, we conducted a Bayesian analysis, using weights of evidence, to understand the probabilistic association of poverty, populations on food stamps, race, and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) with exposure to multiple environmental risks. The results show that census tracts with high racial diversity and LEP residents are significantly associated with greater environmental risks, while poverty and food stamp use have weaker associations with exposure to environmental risks.

In the studies on food and transportation justice, we conducted questionnaire surveys in the identified environmentally vulnerable communities and semi-structured interviews with organizations and legislators that directly serve these communities. The results show that poverty and race both drive food and transportation disparities. The distribution of benefits and resources is far from equitable in vulnerable areas. The marginalized groups face multi-layered injustice, such as food insecurity and lack of transportation, intertwined with social vulnerability and vicious cycles. The current systems and policies largely fail to provide opportunities for these groups to access necessities without great struggles. The decision-making processes are oftentimes not inclusive for the vulnerable community members, and they lack knowledge and opportunities to advocate for themselves and play leadership roles in these processes.

Combining the recommendations made by the interviewees and our analysis, we recommend that the state agencies use the VTEDI to prioritize environmentally vulnerable communities in their policies and programs. The current food and transportation support systems need to consider inequities with differentiated needs based on personal capability and behavior in mind. The decision-making process should be inclusive to low-income and BIPOC residents in environmentally vulnerable communities.



Number of Pages

131 p.

Available for download on Saturday, October 07, 2023