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New Statewide Report Features Community-Informed Environmental Justice Recommendations

Report cover image of young child in field looking skyward.

The Environmental Justice Task Force (EJ TF) report with recommendations on how Washington State can achieve EJ has been released! Check it out here or on the EJ TF’s information page under “Reports & Information”. It contains 26 policy recommendations spanning four categories on how state agencies can incorporate EJ into their responsibilities.

Front & Centered was a co-chair of the Task Force, appointed by the Governor as the statewide EJ organization, and three Front & Centered members – Community to Community Development, the Spokane Chapter of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, and the Tacoma Urban League of Young Professionals – served on the Task Force as community representatives.

Many of the policy recommendations were sculpted from the stories gathered at the ‘community conversations’ we hosted – in person and then virtually – with ten different Front & Centered member organizations across the state. We are indebted to our coalition members who amidst the unimaginable hardships of this year not only pressed on to participate in the community listening sessions but also pivoted to provide community aid – through delivery of items for basic needs and services – due to COVID19. Healing the fault lines of racial inequality exposed by the pandemic and the brutal murder of Black Americans require holistic reforms of our public institutions. This report is an excellent starting point for how to meet what is demanded of this moment: a healthy and safe environment for all humans.

Some highlights include:

A definition of EJ that builds on the definition used by the U.S. EPA by adding Washington state specific outcomes: “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. This includes using an intersectional lens to address disproportionate environmental and health impacts by prioritizing highly impacted populations, equitably distributing resources and benefits, and eliminating harm.”

Noteworthy policy recommendations:

  • Engage Tribes or Indigenous people whenever an agency’s program or service may impact them, while noting this form of engagement is not a substitute for government to government or cultural resource consultations.
  • In partnership with communities, State Agencies should create a standard method to develop, track, evaluate, and publish EJ and health goals focused on preventing pollution and improving engagement in overburdened communities.
  • Create a permanent EJ interagency workgroup of relevant agency staff and members representing ‘overburdened communities’ to serve as a forum for collaboration and accountability.
  • Dedicate at least one staff position in each State Agency to integrating EJ principles and equity in agency actions.
  • Apply equity focused hiring practices to ensure agency staff represent the cultural and racial makeup of the populations they serve.
  • Use the Environmental Health Disparities Map, co-created by Front & Centered, University of Washington, and the Department of Health, to guide the spending of new and existing state environmental funds to ensure the monies eliminate environmental health disparities.
  • Prioritize awards of State contracts for environmental investments to enterprises owned by people of color, women, and veterans, and those that have high labor standards and value workers’ health and safety.
  • Increase the reporting of environmental crimes by increasing awareness of reporting tools and systems and removing barriers to access them such as technology, literacy, and language.
  • When agency decisions have potential to significantly impact a specific community in ways that may influence the determinants of health, agencies should include representatives of that community in the decision-making process from planning to implementation.
  • Change state laws that restrict agencies from purchasing goods and services like childcare and food, in order to support broad public participation in government processes.

These are just snippets of the recommendations. Read the full report to go deeper!

The EJ Task Force came as a result of more than five years of organizing and policy development by the leaders of the Front & Centered Community Council to ensure accountability to frontline communities in state action on climate and environmental justice. As part ofInitiative 1631 we introduced concepts like Targeted Universalism, as investment would have been prioritized by need with at least 35% going to communities identified by the Environmental Health Disparities Map to have the greatest number of health burdens and an Economic and Environmental Justice panel to oversee the program against labor and environmental justice criteria.

We conceived of a policy that would have merged these concepts into the operation of all state environmental efforts. Our legislator champions, Senator Rebecca Saldana and Representative Kristine Reeves, introduced the legislation in the 2019 session which was called the Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL Act). During our advocacy for it we made significant progress in educating the Legislature about the need for EJ; although the Legislature didn’t pass the EJ requirements of the HEAL Act, it did create the EJ TF. The Task Force was required to develop policy recommendations on how State Agencies could incorporate EJ into their responsibilities and submit them in a report to the Governor and Legislature by the fall of 2020.

Front & Centered was honored to be appointed as the statewide EJ organization to co-chair the 16 member group, and we are grateful for David Mendoza’s service as our representative. From the date of the first EJ TF meeting in September 2019 through the last one in September 2020, we worked assiduously to shape the policy recommendations in the mold of justice. Our primary means for this was through hosting community conversations where our members discussed EJ issues in depth and prepared to give feedback to the EJ TF on its policy recommendations.

The next leg of our journey is to return to the Legislature in 2021 to pass the EJ Task Force recommendations as an enhanced version of the HEAL Act. Prior to the start of the Session, Front & Centered will release its parallel Community Report on Environmental Justice, which will provide more detailed insight about what we heard throughout the state in our community conversations. Stay tuned for that and enjoy the recommendations!

For more information about, contact Sameer@frontandcentered.org.