OLYMPIA – Legislation passed today by the Senate would reduce environmental health disparities in Washington state and improve the health of all people in Washington using principles of environmental justice.
Senate Bill 5141, also known as the HEAL Act, would address the disproportionate exposure of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, along with low-income communities to environmental hazards in neighborhoods across Washington state. Due to this exposure, there is a higher risk of adverse health outcomes for those communities, which is further amplified for communities with pre-existing economic barriers and environmental risks.
The HEAL Act, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), would implement recommendations from the Environmental Justice Task Force – established by the Legislature last year – on how state agencies should incorporate environmental justice principles to reduce environmental health disparities when implementing policies and programs. Environmental justice means 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.
“It’s time to recognize the disproportionate health impacts our current and past policies have had on communities of color and low-income communities, and to do something about it. Under this bill, state agencies must incorporate environmental justice implementation plans into their strategic plans and conduct environmental justice assessments on significant agency actions to assist with the equitable distribution of environmental benefits, and identification and reduction of environmental harms and health disparities,” said Saldaña. “The HEAL Act is needed to ensure environmental justice principles are embedded into our agencies' plans, budgets, and implementation of programs because we won’t achieve our climate and environmental goals without centering environmental justice.”
Saldaña’s bill establishes environmental justice requirements for seven state agencies, a permanent environmental justice council and interagency workgroup, and develops timelines for guidance, recommendations, implementation of environmental justice assessments, measurements and public reporting of progress.
“As we lead the recovery effort in the wake of the pandemic, we must also prioritize the health of our natural environment and address the disparate impacts that climate change has had on low-income people and communities of color,” said Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes) a cosponsor of the bill. “We know that the climate crisis impacts every single Washingtonian, but by looking at solutions and investments through the lens of those most affected, we can develop strong policy that will guide the actions of our state agencies, undo historic and systemic harm, and benefit all of our state’s residents and environment for generations to come.”
“None of this would have been possible without the leadership of environmental justice communities who volunteered their hours and expertise in the development of these policies and in advocating for the bill’s passage,” Saldaña said. She also acknowledged the role of Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee chair, Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), for guiding the bill through the amendment process in committee.
The bill will now be considered by the House of Representatives.