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WA Environmental Justice Council Activated and HEAL Act Update

Participants holding signs at HEAL Act bill signing, including clean air
Participants holding signs at HEAL Act bill signing, including clean air

By Guillermo Rogel, Jr., Legislative and Government Relations Advocate

It’s been one year since the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act was signed into law! In that time, the Environmental Justice Council (EJC) has been appointed, agencies have hired dozens of staff related to EJ, and the 2022 legislative session provided new funding for community members to engage in the implementation process for the HEAL Act. 

A lot has happened since last summer, so I hope this update provides our community members with all the information you need to monitor and participate in the deliberations of the EJC and the overall implementation of the HEAL Act. We will cover all of this during an upcoming briefing but we want to share this important information with you through email and online as well. 

Environmental Justice Council

After a three month delay, all members of the EJC were appointed and the council had its first meeting in April, which was mostly introductory and ground setting for the council. However other agenda items, specifically the rule making for the new cap and trade program, requires some kind of follow up while not taking our eyes off the larger picture priorities of the EJC which is to reduce health disparities, practice equitable co-governance with community, and target funding to overburdened communities. 

The EJC is scheduled to meet at least five more times this year with the council being able to call special meetings. This will be a formative first year for the council – members will set the bylaws, procedures, and set precedence on how to respond to issues at the statewide level. Front and Centered has our own HEAL Act implementation community group that meets every other Thursday morning – please reach out to me if you are interested in joining. FnC members are encouraged to connect with EJC members by contacting them directly. EJC members are getting set up with state emails, so communications with them will be subject to public information requests, but in the meantime you can connect with them on their personal emails. Visit the new EJC website to find out more about the council members, agency staff, meeting agendas, recordings of previous meetings, and announcements. 

Cap and Trade Rulemaking

As many of you know, the cap and trade bill, a.k.a the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), that passed last year charged the EJC with providing recommendations for the development and implementation of the program, the distribution of funds, and the establishment of  programs, activities, and projects to achieve environmental justice and environmental health goals. At their first EJC meeting, the Washington Department of Ecology (DoE) briefed the Council on the rulemaking timeline for the cap and trade program. These rules set up how businesses will report their GHG emissions, which entities are covered by the program, and how carbon allowances are issued and traded. 

Council members, rightfully, had major issues with the timeline for this rulemaking since the Council was being asked for their feedback as the rules were already decided or close to being final. While there will be an opportunity to revisit these rules in the future, the DoE is setting precedent for the cap and trade program which is scheduled to begin in January! EJC members called for special meetings on May 13 and May 16 to discuss these issues. At those meetings, EJC members expressed their frustration and asked for a delay in the rulemaking process for the CCA. At this time, there are no commitments from Ecology or the Governor’s Office to change the timeline for the cap and trade program. 

Funding Secured through Community Participation Proviso 

Front and Centered, along with Senator Rebecca Saldaña, drafted a budget proviso designed to increase the community’s capacity to engage in the implementation of the HEAL Act. The proviso passed, but thanks to bureaucratic rules from the state legislature and the Department of Health (DoH), FnC is kept from accessing these funds until late summer, potentially early fall. Instead of designating FnC as the environmental justice organization to receive the dedicated funding, there will be a competitive granting process FnC will need to apply for. This delay in the process could mean losing the first $100K of the allotted $500K, since that first $100K needs to be spent by June 30 plus additional administrative costs from the DoH who is administering the grant. FnC is pushing the DoH for an expedited timeline but we are waiting to see what the final process will look like. 

Overburdened Communities Definition

The HEAL Act defined overburdened communities as a geographic area where vulnerable populations face combined, multiple environmental harms and health impacts, and includes, but is not limited to, highly impacted communities as defined in RCW 19.405.020. However, the cap and trade bill stated the DoE may include the same communities as those identified by the department through its process for identifying overburdened communities under the HEAL Act. 

After meeting with Ecology on this topic, we learned that they will not be using the same definition as the HEAL Act and are instead undergoing a public commenting period to define overburdened communities differently under the CCA. Why is that important? The definition that DoE ends up using will determine the communities that get targeted funding from the carbon allowances that are sold and traded. Anticipated revenue from that is in the billions of dollars over the next decade, some of which was already allocated under the new transportation package passed by the state legislature earlier this year. Note, under the CCA 40% of total revenue must go to overburdened communities and 10% will go to programs, activities, or projects formally supported by a resolution of an Indian tribe.

Investments must aim to reduce environmental burdens in overburdened communities, reduce the disproportionate, cumulative risk from environmental burdens, including those associated with climate change, support of community led project development, planning, and participation costs or meeting a community need identified by the community that is consistent with the intent of this chapter or the HEAL Act. All this said, it’s important that we continue to track this process to define overburdened communities and ensure the voices of our communities inform the final decision.

Next Steps and Competing Timelines

So, there are quite a few things to track, all of them on different timelines, and it can be overwhelming but we’re here to help! If you have any follow up questions, recommendations to the Council, or comment on any of this information, please don’t hesitate to reach out or direct your community members to me. Here is a quick outline of what you can expect in the coming months.

  • May 25: Second Meeting for the Environmental Justice Council (EJC)
  • June 30: Public comment period ends on proposed CCA rules
  • June~July: Dept. of Ecology to define overburdened communities under the CCA and issue a rule
  • July: First draft of state agency community engagement plans under the HEAL Act
  • October: Final rule issued for cap and trade
  • January 2023: Cap and trade program begins 

Additional Links and Resources