Why Washington State Needs an Environmental Justice Advisory Group

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This post was written by OneAmerica Policy Associate Ellicott Dandy.

Last week, we discussed a few ways environmental organizations can incorporate environmental justice into their work. Today, we’ll focus on one of the many steps Washington State can take to do the same. We believe that any efforts to address environmental degradation must meet the needs of highly impacted communities across the state.

As Governor Inslee’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce inches closer to proposing a carbon market for Washington, OneAmerica and our ally organizations continue to keep the spotlight on equity. Environmental justice (EJ) advocates have good reason to be skeptical about market-based solutions to climate change; cap-and-trade systems that don’t make equity a priority can do more harm than good to vulnerable communities. If we can learn anything from California’s experience in addressing climate change, it’s that accountability is the key to ensuring that any carbon market delivers environmental justice. To that end, Washington should create an EJ advisory group that reviews environmental policy and keeps track of its impacts on low income communities and communities of color.

Many analysts now agree that California’s Global Warming Solutions Act would never have passed without its environmental justice provisions. That state’s active EJ community played a critical role in policy design, calling for the creation of an Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC), among other important stipulations. Now, the EJAC is bringing together EJ advocates from highly impacted areas across the state to ensure that the policy meets their communities’ needs.

Washington ought to empower its own group of advocates and community representatives as a first step toward achieving environmental justice. This group should bring together voices from immigrant and low-income communities and have the opportunity to review the carbon market proposal before it’s finalized. The group should also meet on an ongoing basis to monitor the policy’s impacts and counsel the state on how to design policies with local demographic realities in mind.

Of course, this is only one of many things Washington must do to ensure that its most vulnerable communities enjoy the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that they don’t suffer disproportionately from economic shifts like higher energy prices; but it is an important one. Without an adequate representation of those communities’ needs, how can the state begin to find effective ways to meet them?

Here are some examples of EJ advisories in other places:

California
United States (national)
Pennsylvania

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