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:
- Incorporating environmental justice part of agency work, including incorporating environmental justice into agency strategic plans, developing community engagement plans and tribal consultation frameworks, and conducting environmental justice assessments for certain significant actions.
- Promoting the equitable sharing of environmental benefits and investing in communities that have experienced the greatest environmental and health burdens. Agencies must focus expenditures toward creating environmental benefits for overburdened communities and vulnerable populations. The law sets a goal of 40% of expenditures to these communities.
- Providing a voice for disproportionately affected communities and centering environmental justice. The law creates an environmental justice council to advise the state and an interagency work group to coordinate among agencies.
- Supporting evaluation tools and processes. The law requires the Department of Health must maintain and update the Environmental Health Disparities map for evaluating and tracking environmental health disparities. Agencies and the council must track, measure, and report on environmental justice implementation.
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.
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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:
- Develop and implement a community engagement plan.
- Develop and implement tribal consultation framework and offer tribal consultation.
- Incorporate environmental justice in implementation plans of agency strategic plans.
- Incorporate environmental justice into budget development process and in funding and grant decisions.
- Conduct environmental justice assessments on significant agency actions
- Develop metrics, measure progress, and report progress to the Environmental Justice Council and Office of Financial Management.
- Serve at Environmental Justice Council meetings as non-voting liaisons and participate in an interagency workgroup.
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:
- Developing certain agency rules (also called significant legislative rules).
- 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.
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:
- Add functionality to track changes in environmental health disparities over time.
- Further develop the EHD map engaging with communities, researchers, and others.
- Perform a comprehensive evaluation of the map every three years to ensure that the most current modeling and methods are being used.
- Expand online video training on how to use the EHD map.
- Provide support and consultation to agencies on how to use the EHD map.
The following are some of the key milestones required:
- January 1, 2022 - Department of Health convenes the Environmental Justice Council.
- July 1, 2022 - Agencies develop Community Engagement Plans.
- September 1, 2022 - Agencies begin to provide annual reports to Environmental Justice Council.
- November 1, 2022 - Washington State Institute for Public Policy reviews the EHD map.
- 2022 - Agencies develop tribal consultation frameworks in coordination with tribal governments.
- January 1, 2023 - Agencies incorporate implementation plans into agency strategic plans.
- July 1, 2023 - Agencies implement and publish budgeting environmental justice principles, and begin conducting environmental justice assessments.
- November 30, 2023 - Council submits final report to legislature and governor.
- September 1, 2024 - Agencies publish dashboard reports.
- 2024 - Department of Ecology begins reporting summary auctions reports by calendar year to the council.
- July 1, 2025 - Agencies define additional significant agency actions.
- December 1, 2027 - Department of Ecology begins reporting on implementation of the Climate Commitment Act to the council.
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
Environmental Justice Factsheet (PDF)
Environmental Justice Task Force Final Report (PDF)
Focus on Climate Justice in Washington (PDF)
Environmental Justice at DOH Email
Environmental Justice Council
Environmental Justice Task Force
Climate Commitment Act