Environmental Justice

Since the inception of the Governor’s Environmental Justice Taskforce in 2019, Commerce has been involved in advancing the state’s initiatives aimed at addressing environmental injustices.

With a broad scope of over 100 programs, Commerce has a unique opportunity to create transformative change. Improving the health conditions for people of color, indigenous individuals and communities, and low-income people who continue to be disproportionately harmed by environmental and health hazards is essential to advancing Commerce’s mission of strengthening communities.

Healthy Environment for All (HEAL)

Washington’s environmental justice law, introduced as the Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL), passed in 2021. Now in statute, Chapter 70A.02 RCW provides a roadmap for integrating environmental justice into state agencies.

Commerce is one of seven agencies, along with the state departments of Health, Agriculture, Ecology, Natural Resources, and Transportation; and Puget Sound Partnership, required to:

  • Adopt a community engagement plan that centers on environmental justice (EJ) by July 1, 2022
  • Incorporate EJ into our strategic plan by January 1, 2023
  • Develop a Tribal consultation framework
  • Prioritize EJ in budget and funding decisions starting July 1, 2023
  • Conduct EJ assessments for Significant Agency Actions starting July 1, 2023

One of the core elements of the HEAL Act requires covered agencies to conduct environmental justice assessments on significant agency actions beginning July 1, 2023. The HEAL Act requires agencies to perform environmental justice assessments for specific covered activities, termed “Significant Agency Action.” Significant Agency Action (SAA) is statutorily defined in RCW 70A.02.010 as:

  • Developing significant legislative rules as defined in RCW 34.05.328;
  • Developing or adopting any new grant or loan programs
  • Designing or awarding capital projects, grants, or loans of at least $12M or more
  • Developing agency request legislation
  • Any other agency actions deemed significant by Commerce

Additional Significant Agency Action for Commerce

Agencies are authorized to designate additional SAA’s, as actions that may cause environmental harm or may affect the equitable distribution of environmental benefits to an overburdened community or a vulnerable population. Any additional SAA’s must be determined by agencies no later than July 1, 2023, however actions under category (e) will not be subject to environmental justice assessments until July 1, 2025.

News and Updates

Commerce recognizes that systems of environmental neglect cannot change without direct involvement from communities that have borne the weight of disparities. We are committed to a strong partnership with the Environmental Justice Council (Council) as we integrate environmental justice into agency activities.

Environmental Justice Assessments – Public comment period open through June 8, 2023

Commerce intends to adopt one additional SAA to create a pathway that encourages programs to opt-in to HEAL activities that wouldn’t otherwise be required to do so under the statutorily defined SAA categories. The additional SAA is: Where practicable, as determined by Commerce upon recommendation of the applicable program: projects of existing Commerce grant or loan programs that do not otherwise qualify as a SAA under RCW 70A.02.010(12); and/or Federally-funded

Commerce Environmental Justice team publishing draft work products

Commerce is publishing draft work products as part of its goal to balance the interests and obligations to the Council, the Legislature and the people of Washington. These products will undergo further review by the Council, tribes and the public throughout 2023. Provisional Community Engagement Plan (PDF) – Draft Agency Strategic Plan and Environmental Justice Implementation Plan – Draft

Environmental Justice

What is Environmental Justice? 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.

Further, Environmental justice includes addressing disproportionate environmental and 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.

Environmental Justice Principles

The Environmental Justice Task Force developed five key principles to serve as a shared vision of environmental justice in Washington State. Further explanation of these principles can be found in the Environmental Justice Task Force: Recommendations for Prioritizing EJ in Washington State Government (October 2020) (PDF).

  • Achieve the highest attainable environmental quality and health outcomes for all people
  • Adopt a racial justice lens
  • Engage community meaningfully
  • Be transparent
  • Be accountable

Environmental Justice Council

The law also created an Environmental Justice Council to provide recommendations and guidance to state agencies on incorporating environmental justice into agency activities. The council consists of 16 members appointed by the governor. Council membership includes seats for community representatives, a youth community representative, environmental justice practitioners, tribes, labor and business.

Agency Contacts

  • Michael Furze, Executive Sponsor
  • Jennifer Grove, Project Manager

Contact us at EnvironmentalJustice@Commerce.wa.gov.