Environmental policy cannot move forward without addressing the social injustices absorbed by communities that have traditionally hosted major industrial operations, advocates said last Wednesday.
“We know that when pollution is allowed in the poorest, most diverse, and least politically represented neighborhoods that it affects us all,” said Vick Mohanka, from the Mass Power Forward Coalition. “We cannot live in a society that treats some people differently than others because we know that next time it’s our turn.”
Environmental justice advocates are galvanizing around legislation (H 761/S 464 and H 826/S 453) that was aired during a Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agricultural public hearing. The bills emphasize constitutional rights to clean air and water and encourage stronger enforcement of state laws.
Lawmakers said current protections are not enforced equally in all communities, and that things that release pollutants such as power plants, airports, and highways too often end up in marginalized communities.
“The current status quo of forcing minority, immigrant and low-income communities to assume all the burdens without robust process, education, engagement, and appropriate mitigation is untenable,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston, who filed one of the bills (H 826).
These communities with high populations of people of color, low-income residents, and other marginalized groups that face disproportionate environmental burdens are considered “environmental justice communities,” or EJ communities for short. And Massachusetts has many.
“Out of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, 137 of them have EJ communities and populations,” Madaro said.
Rep. Liz Miranda of Boston, another bill sponsor, spoke about her experience growing up in a community with pollutants, with illegal trash transfer stations and brownfields. “Our zip code, due to pollution, was and continues to kill us,” she said.
In her neighborhood, this resulted in a 30-year drop in life expectancy compared to other Boston residents, she said.
“This is not okay and it has never been okay,” she said. “It’s time to make environmental justice a priority in our state to give children like me the opportunity to live and thrive in our state.”