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2019 Legislative Review: Wins and Steps Toward Climate and Environmental Justice

From left to right: Pastor Herbert Carey (Community Development & Outreach Service Ministries), Salvador Salazar (Progreso), David Mendoza (Front and Centered), Melina Rivera (Front and Centered), Jill Mangaliman (Got Green), Nicole Vallestero Keenan-Lai (Puget Sound Sage), Melissa Bañales (Front and Centered), Tammy Morales, Tiffany Mendoza (Front and Centered), Ali Lee (Climate Reality Project – Seattle Chapter).

Written by David Mendoza

Front and Centered believes in a future that is not just cleaner and safer for all, but where our communities and the earth are healed and thriving, people of color and those with lower incomes have dignified work opportunities, and our government values, respects and represents us.

To bring us closer to that future, we pursued four priorities in the 2019 legislative session. With each of these, we either won major victories or took a significant step forward. None of this would have been possible without the strength of our coalition and allies (along with their thousands of emails and calls to legislators)! Together, we illuminated the disproportionate climate and environmental impacts on our communities to shape the dialogue and outcomes in Olympia. Here are the fruits of our work:

A first step toward adopting Environmental Justice principles statewide.

Together, we blazed a trail in taking an environmental justice bill, the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act, further than one has ever gotten in the Washington State Legislature. Although the bill did not make it through the process, we received funding for a critical component of it in the state budget: a task force that develops strategies to address environmental health disparities with the guidance of leaders from communities most impacted by pollution. This is a vital step for addressing health disparities in our communities. Once this task force issues its recommendations, we will return to the Legislature to implement recommendations, ensuring environmental justice is fully embedded in our laws.

Clean and affordable electricity for all. 

From left to right: Emily Pinckney (Tacoma Urban League of Young Professionals, Seattle Aquarium), Maria Batayola (El Centro de la Raza), Dr. Ken Lans (Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility), Sameer Ranade, David Mendoza (both of Front and Centered), Salvador Salazar (Progreso).

This is the most transformative clean electricity law in the nation thanks to the equity components our community developed and fought to include in the final bill. This policy, which Gov. Inslee signed into state law last Tuesday, removes all coal from our electricity supply by 2025, requires 80 percent clean electricity by 2030, and 100 percent by 2045. It mandates that all utilities provide energy assistance programs to residents with lower incomes, ensures investments in clean energy benefit impacted communities and incentivizes improved labor standards for workers.

A Clean Energy Transition Fund that prioritizes frontline communities.

Front and Centered advocacy ensured that this fund in the Capital Budget will now prioritize projects benefitting those facing the greatest impacts of our clean energy transition, including Tribal Nations and communities facing high environmental or energy burdens. The fund provides $32 million for a variety of projects including grid modernization, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. It is now a  requirement to ensure these projects benefit communities most highly impacted by the transition.

Stronger tax on hazardous substances to fund pollution prevention and cleanup of toxic sites.

The update to this act stabilizes and increases the available revenue raised from a tax on hazardous substances. It maintained the 1 percent of the fund that goes to impacted communities for education and community participation and will increase the funds available for the prevention and cleanup of toxic sites and pollution, which disproportionately impact our communities. Finally, funds will now be allowed to clean up locations that can then be used for affordable housing developments.

While this work had many hurdles, each of you raised your voice over and over again until we were heard. Together, we made equity, environmental and climate justice a daily conversation in the Capitol. Thank you so much. We couldn’t have done it without the knowledge and expertise of communities on the frontline of climate and environmental impacts, and support from our allies.

We will continue to build on this momentum and push for healthy environments for all, and a just transition and equitable future.