As the state’s lead environmental agency, our mission is to protect, preserve, and enhance the environment for current and future generations. As we work to build a healthier environment, we must make sure no community is overburdened by environmental pollution, and that we strive to eliminate environmental and health disparities. These principles guide Washington’s first environmental justice law, the Healthy Environment for All Act.
Advancing environmental justice
The Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL Act) was passed by the Legislature in 2021. It is the first statewide law to create a coordinated and collaborative approach to environmental justice.
This new law takes a historic step toward making environmental justice a priority and part of the mission of key state agencies. The law requires Ecology and the state departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership to identify and address environmental health disparities in overburdened communities and underserved populations. Agencies not covered by the law can choose to opt in.
The purpose of this environmental justice law is to:
- Ensure environmental reviews, funding decisions, and permitting decisions identify and address environmental health disparities.
- Reduce exposure to environmental hazards on tribal lands.
- Track and measure implementation of environmental justice in state agencies.
Below are the most prominent requirements of the law. You can also read more about the HEAL Act on the Washington Legislature's website.
Including environmental justice in agency actions
We are in the process of incorporating environmental justice assessments into our work as required by HEAL. The assessments are intended to identify environmental justice impacts caused by significant agency actions. They will help us make informed decisions to reduce environmental harms and address environmental and health disparities in overburdened communities. We are required to conduct assessments when:
- Adopting or developing new grant or loan programs.
- Designing or awarding capital projects, grants or loans of $12 million or more.
- Designing or awarding transportation projects, grants or loans of $15 million or more.
- Developing agency request legislation.
- Developing a significant legislative rule.
Assessing projects for environmental justice before taking significant actions helps ensure that investments are equitable.
We're working on including assessments into our budgeting, funding, and expenditure processes. This will help reduce environmental harm by directing grants and other funding toward vulnerable populations and communities where pollution is most prevalent. Strategic investments will advance our efforts to clean up polluted sites, reduce pollution, and improve the health and quality of life for these communities.
Improving collaboration with communities and Tribes
Strategies to improve engagement with communities and coordinate with tribal governments is a priority. We can work together to develop an environmental justice implementation plan and community engagement plan. We're also coordinating with tribal governments on the development of a tribal consultation framework and on significant actions affecting Tribes’ rights and interests.
Working with the Environmental Justice Council
We're part of the newly-formed Environmental Justice Council and Interagency Work Group. These groups bring together environmental justice advocates, practitioners, and agency representatives to co-develop environmental justice guidance, recommend ways to identify overburdened communities, and create measures to track agency progress on environmental justice goals. Our processes and plans — in addition to community engagement and coordination with Tribes — will align with guidance from the Environmental Justice Council.
Council meetings will also provide an opportunity for the public and community members to give testimony and share their environmental justice concerns. You can subscribe to the Environmental Justice Council Email List to receive council updates.
Our community engagement plan
The HEAL Act requires seven state agencies to create and adopt community engagement plans by July 1, 2022. HEAL also states that the Environmental Justice Council will provide guidance on community engagement plans as agencies create and update them. HEAL also requires that each covered agency consider the guidance developed by the Council.
Our current draft community engagement plan has not yet been reviewed by the Environmental Justice Council. We're committed to a strong partnership with the Environmental Justice Council and mindful of our duty to the Washington Legislature and the people of Washington to adopt a community engagement plan by July 1, 2022. For these reasons, we've adopted a provisional draft plan that will be finalized and implemented after incorporating guidance from the Council and communities across Washington, and consultation with the Tribes. To see the draft, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evaluating health disparities
The Washington Department of Health's Environmental Health Disparities Map is a tool we use in our analysis and assessments. This approach incorporates health and environmental data to determine the combined burdens pollution and other factors place on a particular community. It is also required by HEAL.
The map compares environmental health disparities across the state, and includes data such as diesel emissions, ozone pollution, hazardous waste sites, poverty, and cardiovascular disease. This information can help us and other state agencies better understand community needs and guide the decisions we make.
Completing required actions
Our processes and plans are required to align with guidance from the Environmental Justice Council. We also are required to include a community engagement process and consultation with Tribes as we develop our Community Engagement Plan. The timelines for agencies to complete plans, processes, and other actions are:
- July 1, 2022: Develop an agency Community Engagement Plan.
- Sept. 1, 2022: Provide an annual report to the Environmental Justice Council.
- July 1, 2023: Include an implementation plan within the agency strategic plan.
- July 1, 2023: Publish and implement environmental justice budgeting principles.
- July 1, 2023: Conduct environmental justice assessments and reporting.
- Sept. 1, 2024: Publish a dashboard report.
- July 1, 2025: Define additional significant agency actions.