Where you live, your income, race, or language ability should not determine how healthy and safe you are. But tragically in our communities, health and well-being varies significantly according to who you are and where you live. People across Washington who are suffering worst from pollution—often people with lower incomes, communities of color, Indigenous peoples, and linguistically isolated folks—pay with their well-being and shortened lives.
In 2021, after years of hard work and dedicated community mobilization, we were able to celebrate the passage and signing of Senate Bill 5141: the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act. The HEAL Act represents the collective expertise of our coalition and our direct connections to frontline communities in Washington State. The law is not just a tool our communities can use to create change, but also a unique model for community co-governance that we can look to as we accelerate a Just Transition toward climate and environmental justice.
The HEAL Act affirms that communities have certain fundamental rights, and that we have every right to use them. However, rights need to be properly articulated, resourced, and integrated into state agencies to be protected and exercised. The potential is tremendous, but real hurdles need to be addressed to ensure that the funding and effort on HEAL is focused on impact, and that everyone involved is aligned in purpose and values.
2023 is a critical year for the HEAL Act, with the law’s requirements to assess significant agency actions as well as budgets and spending coming into effect. The legislature will also determine what funding is available to communities and agencies.
In this first community progress report, Front and Centered assesses implementation of the HEAL Act midway through its first cycle of requirements and recommends how to realize the full potential from a non-governmental, community-based perspective, based on our observations, conversations, and participation.
“We know a Just Transition won’t come easy. White supremacy and the “dig, dump, burn” consumer economy are still a reality for all of us to navigate. Government was not set up to change the systems, but to operate them, and change takes time and can be frustrating. But we believe we can persevere through these obstacles and make change if we work together.”
— Mariel Thuraisingham, Clean Energy Policy Lead
We are excited to announce that Front and Centered has been awarded $400,000 to support and fund frontline community organizations to shape implementation of the HEAL Act and create an Environmental Justice Community Participation Fund.
The legislature allocated these funds in 2021 thanks to the mobilization and determination of our coalition members and frontline communities, and they were awarded through the Department of Health. We will be granting them to community-based organizations around Washington State later this year once our plan is approved by the Department of Health.
Front and Centered’s HEAL work group is comprised of staff and community members who represent some of our coalition’s member organizations. Work group members give our coalition guidance on HEAL Act implementation and contributed to our latest progress report, including its findings and recommendations:
Environmental Justice Coordinator, El Centro De La Raza
Wise Action Program Director, Na’ah Illahee Fund
Lab Leader, People’s Economy Lab
Political Director, Familias Unidas por la Justicia
Executive Director, Community to Community
Advocacy Director, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
Organizational Fund Developer, Tacoma Ministerial Alliance
Appointed by the governor, Washington’s EJ Council is another venue where frontline communities can have a voice. Seven of the fifteen council members serve as community representatives, including several who are also members of or staff to the Front and Centered coalition:
Four additional council members are appointed by Tribal governments to serve as representatives of Tribal communities. Dr. Esther Min, who is part of Front and Centered’s coordination team, also serves on the EJ Council as an academic practitioner and environmental justice expert.
Complete this form to endorse the HEAL Act of 2021 and join our campaign listserv for email updates. Your participation is meaningful and strengthens our campaign to allow everyone in Washington to live in a healthy and safe environment no matter who they are, what language they speak, or how much money they have. Thank you!