While environmental justice champions at the federal level must play defense, Washington state should be on offense.
THE U.S. Senate has approved President Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to run the EPA, a man who has repeatedly tried to undermine efforts to protect our nation from climate change. It is clear that Washington state can no longer rely on federal action to safeguard our air, land and water. We must take action in our state Legislature to ensure everyone can live and work in a healthy environment.
With unchecked federal power in the executive branch, all communities will feel the pain of President Donald Trump’s attacks on environmental protections. Communities of color, who face higher barriers to living and working in areas free from pollution and climate impacts, as well as greater economic and health disparities, are likely to be hit first and worst.
A recent report by Front and Centered, a statewide coalition we help steer, showed that toxic pollution sites awaiting cleanup in Washington state are often in neighborhoods with a high share of people of color and people with lower incomes.
The National Equity Atlas illustrates that air-pollution exposure in the Asian Pacific Islander population is 34 points worse than it is for the white population in Washington state. The University of Southern California Program for Environmental and Regional Equity report, The Climate Gap, documented how climate change will worsen air pollution disparities, increase the cost of basic necessities, and reduce job opportunities unevenly and harm agricultural jobs, a sector in which Latino immigrants are the majority of the workforce.
Combined with the Trump administration’s war on immigrants, the Asian Pacific Islander and Latino communities are at greater risk from an assault on environmental protections.
While environmental justice champions at the federal level must play defense, Washington state should be on offense. We can rebalance uneven access to healthy neighborhoods and create green jobs. There are three environmental justice issues we are asking legislators to take action on:
First, legislators should approve the Clean Energy Transition Act (HB 1646 and its companion bill, SB 5509), which is an equitable strategy to tackle carbon pollution and climate change. It aligns with a climate policy proposal carefully crafted by a broad alliance of community groups, from labor, faith, and racial justice to energy and environmental groups, health professionals and moms.
The bill would generate investments in clean energy, clean water, and healthy forests through a carbon tax, targeting clean infrastructure in communities most exposed to pollution and climate change. These investments range from creating green jobs to improving sidewalks.
Second, legislators can ensure that financial support for toxics-pollution prevention, cleanup, and community participation are more reliable through sufficient Model Toxics Control Act funding (HB 1663 and SB 5501). This act has been tremendously effective in cleaning up thousands of toxic sites across the state and increasing community input in projects to protect our health from toxics. But decreases in funding in recent years have compromised the program’s capacity. Community participation in toxic clean up, a vital part of the law which ensures the people most impacted by the pollution have a role in implementing solutions, was completely defunded in the Legislature’s 2016 budget.
Third, legislators can designate money the state earned for air pollution reduction from the Volkswagen settlement to investment in communities most impacted. In fact, the agreement requires the state describe how it considered benefits to areas that bear a disproportionate share of the burden from air pollution.
We must find our own pathways to advance environmental equity. This Legislative session we invite you to call on your legislators to take action for climate and environmental justice.