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WA Bill on Equitable Climate Response Nears Finish Line

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Washington state is expecting more wildfires as the effects from climate change get worse. (Chris/Adobe Stock)
Washington state is expecting more wildfires as the effects from climate change get worse. (Chris/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
March 29, 2021

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The impacts from climate change fall disproportionately on some people, but a bill in the Washington state Legislature aims to put those folks at the center of the conversation.

The Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL Act) would define and include environmental justice in the work of state agencies so that people on the front lines of a changing climate, often communities of color, are included in planning and discussion.

Charmi Ajmera, co-lead for equitable governance with Front and Centered, which is leading the effort on the measure, said it would provide equity in the decision-making process.

"[We're] trying to embed environmental justice into everything these agencies are already doing," Ajmera explained. "So they can just grow that muscle, so it becomes sort of second nature that they think about equity and environmental justice in what they're doing."

The HEAL Act would also create and fund an environmental justice council and, with guidance from communities and the Environmental Health Disparities Map, allocate funding toward the most impacted areas.

Opponents of the bill say it will restrain economic growth and hurt jobs. The bill has passed the Senate and been approved in the House Committee on Environment and Energy.

Giovanni Severino, lead policy organizer for the Latino Community Fund of Washington, which works with communities in the central part of the state, said people in the region have seen more effects from environmental catastrophes such as wildfires and heat waves as climate change has worsened.

"We see our homes burning down, we see our communities burning down," Severino recounted. "We also see the drought that is brought into communities, and for Latinx communities in central Washington specifically, well, those are the communities that are hit the hardest."

David Mendoza, director of public advocacy and engagement for The Nature Conservancy of Washington, said the goal of the legislation is to ensure state agencies understand what marginalized communities need.

"So as agencies then develop policy or enforcement plans or grants, those concerns are really understood and programs are designed with that perspective, to address the health disparities communities face," Mendoza outlined.

Mendoza noted the HEAL Act is now headed to the House Appropriations Committee.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy of Washington contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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