In Washington and around the world, as the urgency of the climate crisis grows, the need to confront environmental justice has rightfully become an increasing priority. But when it comes to environmental justice, one issue has long been overlooked: aviation noise and emissions.
For decades, the U.S. invested in infrastructure and transportation systems and adopted land-use policies that have contributed to a high concentration of noise and pollution in low-income communities and communities of color. Communities near airports and air-flight pathways are no different.
The effects that aviation noise and pollution have on communities is an environmental-justice and health-equity issue — and that’s true here in King County, too.
Unfortunately, support for communities affected by the aviation sector has been sorely lacking. It’s time for the federal government to take a more proactive role in mitigating against the impacts of airports and aircraft on communities. The Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies have developed a series of programs targeted at environmental-justice initiatives, but none are focused specifically on communities impacted by aviation noise and emissions.
The absence of such a program represents a glaring gap in our environmental and public-health efforts, which is why I introduced the Aviation Noise and Emissions Mitigation Act.
The Federal Aviation Administration, the lead federal entity for these issues, is simply not equipped to meaningfully address the environmental justice and health equity challenges of noise and emissions. If we are to treat this problem as an environmental justice and equity issue, then the agencies like the EPA who lead our work on environmental health and air quality need to be more engaged.
The Aviation Noise and Emissions Mitigation Act I introduced would help us better understand the effects of noise and emissions in our communities and fund initiatives driven by communities to mitigate the impact on the environment, public health and quality of life of residents living near airports and air-flight pathways.
As the aviation sector has grown, with more people flying more frequently, significant investments have been put toward airport infrastructure. We need to make similar investments in communities that feel the negative effects of aviation. This means not only investing in new technologies to decarbonize air travel and expanding other forms of zero-emissions travel, but also directing funding to the communities disproportionately impacted by aviation.
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill recently signed into law present a unique opportunity to invest in communities near airports and airflight pathways. The bills mark a historic investment in environmental protection and transportation, with a focus on environmental justice and equity. Many of the communities most affected by noise and emissions from airports and aircraft are the same communities facing disproportionate environmental hazards from other sources.
Residents living in aviation-impacted communities cannot wait any longer for relief from the public-health consequences of exposure to high concentrations of pollutants and high levels of aviation noise.
Congress and the federal government must establish new programs to better measure the environmental and public-health consequences of exposure to high levels of noise and emissions, and invest in resources to reduce those impacts on these communities.
Millions of Americans who live near aviation hubs — like my constituents in the 9th District — deserve nothing less.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.