Pollution and environmental contamination can affect everyone living in Washington, but some people are significantly more burdened than others. Research shows that people of color, low-income people, and indigenous people are disproportionately harmed by environmental hazards like toxic contamination, diesel emissions, and climate change. These environmental exposures have real impacts on the lives of many in Washington, such as:
- Higher rates of illness and disease
- More frequent hospitalization
- Lower life expectancy
We're committed to making decisions that do not place disproportionate burdens on disadvantaged communities. And we seek to lift the weight of pollution and contamination borne by those communities. Focusing our time and resources toward strategic actions to address these long-standing inequities will lead to improvements in health and the environment, and more resilient communities in Washington.
"I have a deep personal commitment to environmental justice. It's one of my highest priorities. For me, environmental justice is about achieving the highest environmental quality for Washington's diverse communities. We will work strategically to eliminate environmental and health disparities in communities of color, indigenous communities, and economically disadvantaged communities." Laura Watson, Ecology Director
Advancing environmental justice
Lawmakers took a historic step to eliminate environmental and health disparities in communities of color, indigenous communities, and economically disadvantaged communities by passing the HEAL (Healthy Environment for All) Act in the 2021 legislative session.
This landmark policy makes environmental justice an integral part of the way Washington state does business. The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Ecology, Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership are all required to conduct EJ assessments and incorporate EJ into strategic plans and budgets. The HEAL Act also creates an EJ Council, interagency workgroup, community engagement plans, tribal consultation processes, and defines what environmental justice is.
The HEAL Act will bring a greater focus and additional resources to over-burdened communities — ensuring that we protect and preserve the environment for every Washingtonian.
Environmental justice at Ecology
Environmental justice is a priority in our efforts to restore and protect land, air, and water. Below are some examples of our work to meaningfully engage communities, and strategically address environmental issues in areas with environmental justice considerations.