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Environmental Justice in the 2023 Legislative Session

Edgar Franks (left) of Familias Unidas por la Justicia and Guillermo Rogel Jr. (center), Front and Centered's legislative advocate, smile and pose with a community member (right). Edgar holds a sign that reads "Equitable Governance."

If you haven’t fervently been reading proposed bills, watching committee hearings, or making weekly trips to our state capital, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. We’re more than halfway through the 105-day 2023 legislative session and I’d like to provide you with an update about what’s been happening here in Olympia, and what’s to come.

2023 Climate and Environmental Justice Priorities

The House and the Senate are both in the beginning stages of developing the operating, transportation, and capital budgets—all due by April 23, the last day of this session. We’re working to get ahead of the end-of-session blitz by highlighting our budget priorities through a budget memo and letter and by meeting with legislators to recommend how new climate revenue should be spent to align with our values and benefit frontline communities.

When the governor released his budget before session, there was no explicit mention of how spending met the obligations of the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act and the environmental justice provisions in the Climate Commitment Act to “vulnerable populations” and “overburdened communities.” The Office of the Governor has recently released an outline of his proposed funding to overburdened communities, but this document fails to provide clarity on 1) who exactly is benefiting, and 2) what those benefits are. Our communities know what they need and must be asked.

Our next steps around the budget will be to:

  • conduct an analysis and response to the governor’s outline;
  • prepare to respond to House and Senate budget drafts due out this month; and
  • continue meeting with members of both budget committees to ensure our priorities, including all budget provisos, are fully funded (see list below).

Earlier this session, we asked coalition members to take action to help ensure that the budget is accountable to frontline communities. We will soon be asking all of our members, supporters, and partners to take action to advocate for our shared climate and environmental justice budget priorities. Stay tuned!

Our priority bill, SB 5651, would take HEAL to the local level by requiring cities and counties to embed environmental justice into their comprehensive plans. Unfortunately, the bill fell one vote short in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and the Association of Washington Counties and Realtors Association both discouraged lawmakers from advancing our bill. Our biggest and most heartfelt thanks go out to the many hundreds of you who signed in PRO to help get SB 5651, which was a new bill for this legislative session, so far along the process! Your strong and repeated support has made it possible for elements of the bill to be funded, even if SB 5651 doesn’t move out of committee.

Our Energy Assistance budget proviso would address current energy assistance gaps and recommend design for a statewide energy assistance program to effectively address the energy burden and provide universal access to energy assistance for low-income households.

Our Transportation Justice Agenda aims to reorient the way we invest our transportation dollars and prioritize safety with clear standards for improving transit and safe sidewalks and crosswalks:

  • Our Frequent Transit Standard budget proviso would continue the work of last year’s frequent transit study and direct the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to recommend statewide goals for frequent transit access over a twelve-year period and respond to the disparities identified in our Washington Transit Access Map. The study would also convene a robust process led by transit riders and a non-driver advisory group including representatives from overburdened and vulnerable communities to guide the development of goals and targets.
  • How can policymakers create effective policy without knowing the landscape? We’re collaborating with the UW Taskar Center for Accessible Technology and WSDOT to develop a Sidewalk Inventory that collects the statewide data necessary for making well-informed budget and policy choices related to sidewalk development and maintenance.

Report cover with graphic of people cleaning earth.These efforts exemplify our approach of bringing together multiple forms of reliable data—including the voices and experiences of our frontline communities—to shape our policy agenda. We remain grounded in this approach while working with legislators and state agencies to ensure that programs are enacted and implemented in ways that are effective and accountable.

In fact, this month we launched our HEAL Progress Report: Seeding the Culture and Building the Structures for a Just Transition through Washington’s Landmark Law on Environmental Justice, to assess implementation of the HEAL Act midway through its first cycle of requirements. The report recommends how the state can realize HEAL’s full potential, based on our observations, participation, and community conversations.