State House passes HEAL Act for environmental justice, a first for Washington
A bill that would address environmental justice is still alive in the state Legislature.
The so-called Healthy Environment for All, or HEAL, Act passed the House in the nick of time, getting a last-minute bipartisan vote of 88-10 just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, to clear the cutoff deadline.
The HEAL Act aims to improve health disparities in Washington through targeted investments in areas suffering worst from pollution. It would direct eight key state agencies to target their work using an environmental health disparities map that launched in January. It also would create a task force to oversee the implementation.
David Mendoza is with Front and Centered, a statewide coalition of more than 60 social justice groups that have been lobbying for the measure. Mendoza says their volunteers looked up each legislative district on the map to see how polluted they are, on a scale of one to 10.
“We found every single legislative district in Washington has at least one census tract with a score of six or above,” he said.
Communities with scores closer to 10 suffer disproportionately from negative effects of pollution. They’re frequently in rural areas. They’re also more often than not socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, such as low income and people of color, said Jill Mangaliman, executive director of the South Seattle environmental justice group, Got Green.
“We have higher rates of respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease. And we want to actually reduce that burden on these communities, ” Mangaliman said. ”This will make it possible across the board."
Currently, 86 groups have endorsed and are urging passage of the bill, which still needs a concurrent vote from the Senate. The Senate version had nearly three dozen amendments at passage, an unusually high number.
The main opposition has come from the Association of Washington Business and the Building Industry Association, who argue it could create regulatory uncertainty.
Note: this story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Senate version of the bill (not the House version) had several dozen amendments. We regret the error.