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WA Communities on Front Lines of Climate Change Focus on HEAL Act

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Washington has developed a map of environmental health disparities across the state. (Washington State Department of Health)
Washington has developed a map of environmental health disparities across the state. (Washington State Department of Health)
January 27, 2021

SEATTLE -- A measure in the Washington Legislature would make justice for all communities the bedrock of environmental policies in the state.

The Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL Act) would incorporate environmental justice for communities of color and front-line communities into law.

Guillermo Rogel, legislative advocate for the group Front and Centered, which is leading the effort on the HEAL Act, said the bill would guide the state as it confronts climate change.

"The communities who have been most impacted by pollution are going to be at the forefront of the decision-making process, and helping ensure that investments go to the communities who are most impacted," Rogel explained. "And so, that's where we needed this piece of legislation, in order to put that into Washington state statute."

Rogel noted the federal government has a definition for the term "environmental justice," but supporters of the HEAL Act want to see Washington state go further.

The bill had a public hearing last week. Rogel expects lawmakers will hold an executive session on it in the next week or two.

Australia Hernandez Cosby, a promotora (community organizer) for Community to Community Development, who testified on behalf of farmworkers in support of the HEAL Act, said the state is falling short protecting farmworkers from environmental hazards.

She believes the bill is a way to hold the government accountable.

"The HEAL Act is a tool to engage community, those who are most impacted by the environmental changes, to improve their health and lives for everyone," Cosby asserted. "And we owe it to our farmworkers to have a voice at the table."

Rogel added the comprehensiveness of the bill is unique.

"We're talking about programming, we're talking about implementation, we're talking about enforcement, all of the things that state agencies do, we want to embed it and make sure that environmental justice is there," Rogel concluded.

Environmental justice groups still are waiting to see a final draft on the bill, which is Senate Bill 5141.

Disclosure: Community to Community Development contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, and Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA