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Northam releases report from Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group

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Gov. Ralph Northam has released a report from the Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group, a body that was established in 2020 through a budget amendment to advance environmental justice within executive branch state agencies.

Northam also directed working group members to continue meeting despite a legislative setback that would have made the group permanent, and to discuss and provide recommendations on environmental justice issues raised during the recently concluded General Assembly session.

The interagency working group is comprised of 14 environmental justice coordinators representing each secretariat in the governor’s cabinet. The report catalogs activities related to environmental justice within state agencies and identifies gaps in capacity and resources necessary to fully incorporate environmental justice into agency operations.

The group presented its findings by focusing on four areas within each impacted agency, including policy and regulations, community engagement and meaningful involvement, economic development and infrastructure, and fiscal impact and resources.

“This report represents an important first step toward securing justice for disadvantaged communities that have been disproportionately burdened by the impacts of climate change,” Northam said. “While I am disappointed the General Assembly did not build on our progress from last year by passing additional environmental justice legislation in the 2021 session, I am deeply grateful for the work of Sens. Jennifer McClellan and Ghazala Hashmi, along with Dels. Cliff Hayes, Shelly Simonds, and Mark Keam. I will continue to do everything within my power to address current and historical injustices and embed environmental justice into the decision-making process across state government.”

Northam is tasking the working group with studying what new processes and authorities are needed to address the environmental justice implications of state agency actions. This includes evaluating the cumulative environmental and public health impacts of multiple agency actions and how best to ensure that Virginians are aware of proposed activities that could cause pollution in their communities while providing for equitable economic opportunity.

The working group performed an internal assessment of every state agency, identifying resources and fiscal impacts related to creating and implementing environmental justice policies. In this first phase, the working group estimated that 34 new full-time employees at 24 state agencies would be necessary to develop a robust statewide environmental justice policy and implementation plan.

Overall, 35 state agencies identified additional resources needed to comprehensively incorporate and promote environmental justice in decision making and policy as defined in the Code of Virginia.

“This report is an important step towards ensuring an agency-specific environmental justice policy in Virginia,” said Queen Zakia Shabazz, coordinator of the Virginia Environmental Collaborative. “It is imperative that the Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group continue the work they have started. The Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative looks forward to working in partnership with the Governor’s office to address all components of environmental justice, including racial and economic disparities across Virginia.”

The interagency working group will consult the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to address environmental justice determinations and direct concerns of traditionally underrepresented communities.

Northam is also directing the working group to increase community engagement and meaningful involvement through amplified outreach efforts that include public comment and forums regarding various agency-specific activities outlined in the report.

In 2020, Northam signed the Virginia Environmental Justice Act, which integrates environmental justice into Virginia regulations and state policies. This historic legislation established that it is the policy of Virginia to promote environmental justice and ensure that it is carried out throughout the Commonwealth.

The report and continuing work of the interagency working group will help inform a comprehensive approach to environmental justice across state agencies and operations.

The 2020 report of the Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group is available here.

augusta free press
augusta free press
augusta free press

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