November 25, 2014
Today, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law an Executive Order on Environmental Justice that directs all state agencies to devote resources to protect the health, safety and environment for the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth.
He was joined by our Massachusetts Environmental Justice Alliance (MA EJ Alliance), comprised of environmental and social justice organizing and grassroots groups from across the state.
"Today we reaffirm our commitment to providing the whole Commonwealth with better quality of life through parks, open space and sound environmental policy," said Governor Deval Patrick. "This Order will ensure these principles are integrated into decision-making across state government."
Massachusetts became the eighth state in the country to pass an Executive Order on Environmental Justice. Environmental justice populations reside in 137 of the Commonwealth's 351 municipalities, including most of the densest cities in towns like Boston, Chelsea, Springfield and Worcester. Residents in these communities, who are mostly low-income and people of color, live with substantially greater risk of exposure to environmental health hazards than the general population.
"A strong environmental justice law will give those of us most affected by pollution a fighting chance in Springfield," said Michaelann Bewsee of Arise for Social Justice.
The Executive Order is a milestone in the statewide environmental justice movement that is good for our health, our neighborhoods and jobs. It focuses resources on low-income communities and communities of color, and benefits extend to the entire Commonwealth. This Executive Order requires all stakeholders to be creative around our region's future energy needs, zero waste implementation, and green space and job creation.
"Environmental justice in many states is focused on improving the process or ability of residents and workers to participate in decision-making without guaranteeing that such input will result in practical changes on the ground," said Staci Rubin, Senior Attorney at ACE. "This Executive Order is unique in that it requires the state to focus enforcement and funding efforts for environmental benefits in environmental justice communities."
The campaign for an Executive Order started five years ago when ACE and our partners saw the need for the government to increase its resources to ensure that people can live, learn, work and play in environmentally safe communities.
"Prior to this order, many siting decisions, patterns of state regulatory enforcement, and funding for improvements were made without government employees recognizing environmental justice issues. We will now have more opportunities to learn about industrial and commercial projects before they enter our neighborhoods and to have a say in the kinds of health and environmental outcomes that we want to see for our families and towns," added Roseann Bongiovanni, Associate Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative.
Environmental justice is the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies, and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.
For New Bedford residents, the Executive Order will "put pressure on local elected officials to become serious about EJ and come up with their own working agenda to make sure that environmental justice is a part of the City's everyday structure," said Eddie Johnson, President of Citizens Leading Environmental Action Network (CLEAN). CLEAN is working to remediate the Parker Street Waste Site, a former dump with lingering contamination that is home to many residents, playing fields and schools. According to Johnson, "We at CLEAN are elated" about Governor Patrick's decision to sign the state law.
The Executive Order will require all state agencies to have an EJ strategy by May 24, 2015. Each strategy must:
(1) Identify all regulatory authority over industrial operations and commercial facilities and describe how EJ populations are protected;
(2) Identify funding programs that should consider EJ populations in the award process; and
(3) Create a public participation plan that focuses agency resources on outreach activities, including communicating in multiple languages and scheduling public meetings at locations and times convenient for neighborhood stakeholders.
The Order requires all state agencies to designate an EJ Coordinator to carry out each agency's EJ strategy and participate in the interagency workgroup on EJ. It establishes an advisory council with community stakeholders to oversee implementation of the EJ Executive Order, as well as an online environmental justice repository to make it easier for people to learn about the state's environmental justice resources and for developers to visit a central location to learn more.
"ACE played a key role in bringing together neighborhood groups and community-based organizations to organize for the Executive Order, including convening many dialogues on the issue with the MA EJ Alliance," said Kalila Barnett, ACE Executive Director. "We appreciate ACE members for taking the lead to fight for this EJ law."
Thank you members, supporters and allies for your support in accomplishing this tremendous victory!