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Community Report on Environmental Justice

Community Report on Environmental Justice

Communities of color, people with lower incomes, and Indigenous people
are on the frontlines of climate and environmental change

In Washington and across the country, a person’s race, even more than their income, is the most important factor that determines how their health is impacted by climate change and pollution. Our advocacy at Front and Centered (F&C) drove the creation of Washington’s Environmental Justice Task Force (Task Force) with the aim to recalibrate the work of state agencies to eliminate such gross health disparities. As highlighted by the frontline voices in our report, Community Report on Environmental Justice, environmental justice (EJ) can be achieved by directing the focus of state agencies to the communities most impacted. This approach provides adequate health protections for communities more vulnerable to environmental threats by virtue of discrimination, poverty, and poor health.

The findings of this community report offer a firsthand account of how human health is impacted by pollution and climate impacts, and how it can be improved by government focus. The voices and lived experiences collected in this report were foundational to our work supporting the mission of Washington’s 16-member Task Force, created by a key provision of the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act that F&C led the push to pass in 2019. Rather than passing the entire HEAL Act, the State Legislature appropriated $390,000 to fund establishing the Task Force and directed it to develop policy recommendations on how to embed EJ into state agency responsibilities.

In 2020, the Task Force issued a report with recommendations that were informed by robust public input, including Task Force meetings and F&C community listening sessions held between Nov 2019 – Sep 2020 representing F&C coalition members statewide. These recommendations laid the groundwork for the next iteration of the HEAL Act, and reflect the voices of many frontline communities disproportionately impacted by pollution.

“Wealthier neighborhoods are given more educational resources by the city with clean streets and better lighting and the city is prioritizing these neighborhoods. Why isn’t EJ education being provided to POC and low income communities?”
-King County participant, Entre Hermanos

Advocates and frontline communities celebrated passage of this HEAL Act (SB 5141) during the 2021 Legislative Session. This landmark bill requires state agencies to apply EJ principles and practices in significant actions that may cause environmental harm. The bill also includes a framework for the state to more equitably distribute funds and environmental benefits. It requires engaging community, strategic planning, and budgeting, in ways that address environmental health disparities and ensure that the communities most impacted by environmental harm get the much-needed investment toward a greener and fairer economy that benefits everyone.

The HEAL Act model of change, following the lead of communities and adding equity and justice across environmental actions, should inspire future policy making and legislative action. Our Community Report on Environmental Justice reveals one part of a years’ long process that centers those disproportionately impacted in governance, a key principle and strategy in our collective work toward a Just Transition, further explored in our report, Accelerating a Just Transition in Washington State: Climate Justice Strategies from the Frontlines.

“Hire from within impacted communities – oftentimes we see [state agencies] bring in experts and we end up training them again and again and again. A lot of time could be saved by hiring from within communities instead of training outsiders on how to work with us.”
– Spokane participant