The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The EPA states that this goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
In 1994 President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which directed federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their agency missions by identifying and addressing disproportionately high or adverse environmental or human health effects of agency programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations. In 2000 President Clinton also signed Executive Order 13166, which requires federal agencies to examine the services they provide, and identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency, and to develop and implement a system to provide those services. In 2011 the Federal Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group established a Title VI Committee to address the intersection of agencies' environmental justice efforts with their Title VI enforcement and compliance responsibilities. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in all federally assisted programs on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.
In 2005 Governor Gregoire issued Executive Order 05-03, which requires that state agencies use plain talk when communicating with the public.
Environmental Justice Task Force.
A proviso in the 2019-2021 Biennial Operating Budget directed the Governor's Interagency Council on Health Disparities to convene and staff an Environmental Justice Task Force (Task Force). The Task Force was directed to recommend strategies for incorporating environmental justice principles into future state agency actions across Washington. The Task Force published a report with its recommendations in the fall of 2020.
Washington Health Disparities Map.
In 2018 a collaborative group began making available to the public an interactive mapping tool that compares communities across Washington for environmental health disparities, known as the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map (Map). The Map was developed by the University of Washington's Department of Environmental and Occupation Health Sciences, Front and Centered, Washington State Department of Health, Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The Map includes 19 specific indicators of health disparities, which are divided into four themes: environmental exposures, environmental effects, sensitive populations, and socioeconomic factors.
Government-to-Government Relationship with Indian Tribes.
Indian tribal governments are sovereign, self-governing entities. Washington state has established several agreements with federally recognized Indian tribes to facilitate government-to-government relations, including the Centennial Accord (1989) and New Millennium (1999) agreements.
Under state law, in establishing a government-to-government relationship with federally recognized Indian tribes with traditional lands or territories in Washington, state agencies must:
Environmental Justice in State Agency Activities.
The Puget Sound Partnership and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Ecology, Health, Natural Resources, and Transportation (covered agencies) must apply and comply with specified environmental justice requirements with respect to agency activities. Other state agencies are encouraged to apply the principles of environmental justice in applying state laws and agency rules and policies, and are authorized to opt in to the environmental justice requirements applicable to covered agencies.
Covered agencies must:
Exceptions to requirements to carry out environmental justice assessments or to incorporate environmental justice principles into budget and expenditure processes may be made if:
Environmental Justice Council.
An environmental justice council (Council) is established to advise covered agencies on incorporating environmental justice into agency activities. The Council consists of 12 members representing specified interests, appointed by the Governor, and subject to confirmation by the Senate. The Council must:
The Council's role is advisory and Council decisions are not binding on an agency, individual, or organization. The Council must convene by January 1, 2022. Council meetings are subject to open public meetings requirements, and public comment periods must be provided at every Council meeting.
The Department of Health (DOH) must hire a manager for the Council and provide administrative and staff support for the Council. The DOH must also establish standards for tracking community outcome data, create process and outcome performance measures, and create an online performance dashboard.
The DOH must also establish an interagency workgroup, which may include Council members, to assist covered agencies in implementing new environmental justice requirements. The interagency workgroup is responsible for providing technical assistance to support agency compliance, assisting the Council in developing a suggested schedule and timeline for sequencing significant agency actions, identifying goals and metrics, identifying other policies, priorities and projects, and developing guidelines for state agencies.
Covered agencies must consider guidelines developed by the Council in:
Covered agencies must annually update the Council on their development and implementation of these required plans and processes, and must publish an annual report beginning in 2024.
The Council must submit a report by November 30, 2022, to the Governor and the Legislature on certain activities of the Council.
Government-to-Government Consultation with Indian Tribes.
Covered agencies must offer consultation with Indian tribes on decisions that affect tribes' rights and interests in their tribal lands. The consultation must occur under state law governing government-to-government consultation processes. Agencies must develop a consultation framework in coordination with tribal governments.
Environmental Health Disparities Map.
The DOH, in consultation with the Council, must continue to develop and maintain an environmental health disparities map (map). In developing and maintaining the map, DOH must encourage participation by representatives of overburdened communities and vulnerable populations, and may consult with other interested partners. The DOH must document and publish a summary of regular updates and revisions to the map, and must perform an evaluation of the map at least every three years. The DOH must also develop technical guidance for covered agencies to use the map and provide support and consultation to agencies on the use of the map.