The passage of the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act in 2021 is a historic step toward eliminating environmental and health disparities among communities of color and low income households. It is the first statewide law in Washington to create a coordinated state agency approach to environmental justice.
The law covers seven state agencies: the Washington State Department of Health (DOH); the state departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Ecology, Natural Resources, and Transportation; and Puget Sound Partnership. It allows other agencies to opt in. The HEAL Act builds on and implements some of the key recommendations from the Environmental Justice Task Force (PDF). Some key elements include:
Defining Environmental Justice
The law establishes a clear definition for Washington that builds on the Environmental Protection Agency's definition of environmental justice:
“Environmental justice means the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, rules, and policies. Environmental justice includes addressing disproportionate environmental health impacts in all laws, rules, and policies with environmental impacts by prioritizing vulnerable populations and overburdened communities, the equitable distribution of resources and benefits, and eliminating harm.”
This video explains the disproportionate impacts of environmental burdens on people with low incomes and people of color. For more information visit the EPA's Environmental Justice website.
Environmental Justice Council
The law also creates an Environmental Justice Council to provide recommendations and guidance to the state and an Interagency Workgroup to assist with technical coordination among the state agencies.
Agency Coordination and Requirements
The law gives agencies standards of practice and seeks to accelerate and coordinate work. DOH is required to convene an interagency workgroup to support Environmental Justice Council work and ensure coordination among agencies.
Agencies are required to:
Environmental Justice Assessments
The law requires covered agencies to conduct environmental justice assessments when making decisions to inform and support agency considerations of overburdened communities and vulnerable populations. Assessments are intended to assist the agency with understanding disproportionate impacts, equitably distributing environmental benefits, reducing environmental harms, and addressing environmental and health disparities. This process should not delay the timeline or completion of the action being assessed.
Starting on July 1, 2023, these assessments will be performed on:
Role of the Washington Tracking Network
Washington Tracking Network (WTN) is a DOH program focused on making public health data more accessible. This data includes our Environmental Health Disparities (EHD) map, an interactive mapping tool that compares communities across our state for environmental health disparities, and provides insights into where public investments can be prioritized. With the passage of the HEAL Act, the EHD map is identified as a resource to agency decision-making and requires DOH to maintain and expand the map. The law also requires the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to conduct a technical review of the map.
Under the new law, WTN will:
The following are some of the key milestones required:
Note: The Climate Commitment Act (CCA) requires the Environmental Justice Council to advise on several elements of climate programs and receive reports on certain aspects of the implementation of this law. This timeline will be updated as more information is available.
Reports and Information
- Spanish: Estado de Washington invierte en justicia ambiental a través de Ley HEAL (PDF)
- Vietnamese: Tiểu Bang Washington đầu tư vào công bằng môi trường thông qua HEAL Act (PDF)
- Russian: Власти штата Вашингтон делают вклад в экологическую справедливость в рамках HEAL Act (PDF)