Last week, Senator Sal DiDomenico joined with Environmental Justice (EJ) advocates from across the Commonwealth at a virtual legislative briefing in support of the Environmental Justice Act, a bill he sponsored in partnership with Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representatives Liz Miranda, Adrian Madaro, and Michelle DuBois. The event was hosted by the EJ Legislation Table, an organization made up of local advocacy groups, including GreenRoots; Neighbor to Neighbor; Alternatives for Community & Environment; Coalition for Social Justice; Conservation Law Foundation; Clean Water Action; Community Action Works; MA Climate Action Network, Environmental League of MA; Green Energy Consumers; Better Future Project; Sierra Club, North American Indian Center of Boston, and 350 Mass.
The briefing sought to shed light on the Environmental Justice Act and identify its clear connection to the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts. For decades, low-income communities & communities of color in the Commonwealth have borne the brunt of the state’s energy choices and have been left out of key decision-making processes. Consequences of these realities have resulted in a disproportionately high rate of COVID infections throughout EJ communities, as represented by data from the MA Dept. of Public health, and related CRESSH study.
The CRESSH study, which has modeled COVID infection rates in towns throughout the Commonwealth, indicated during the height of summer infections that EJ communities like Chelsea and Everett faced 2955 and 1770 COVID cases, respectfully, while more affluent communities faced nearly a quarter of these outbreaks.
“Time and again, cities like Chelsea and Everett have been disproportionately impacted by our long history of short-sighted environmental policies and have taken on this toxic burden for our entire region. It should come as no surprise then that this history has had severe consequences for our health and that EJ cities like those in my district are now the communities most impacted by the COVID-19 virus,” said Senator DiDomenico during the briefing. “It has never been clearer that we need to pass the Environmental Justice Act this legislative session. Our EJ communities cannot wait for us to take action any longer.”
The Environmental Justice Act seeks to address the unfair share of environmental pollution faced by a handful of communities by defining disproportionate environmental burdens as injustices and the individuals affected by them as Environmental Justice populations. It further aims to facilitate a more equitable distribution of energy and environmental benefits and burdens throughout the Commonwealth via the expansion of environmental impact reviews, including evaluations by the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which will have direct representation from EJ populations.
“Given what we know about the connection between environmental and public health, it is imperative that we get these bills passed immediately to protect our most vulnerable communities from any additional environmental burdens that could impact their health during these already challenging times,” summarized Senator DiDomenico. “Our EJ populations must be involved in the decision making related to their own environmental well-being into the future.”
The Environmental Justice Act received a favorable report out of the Joint Committee on Environmental, Natural Resources and Agriculture in December of 2019, and is currently pending before the Senate Committee on Ways & Means.