Vermont legislators are working to change that policy as Vermont is the last state without one. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy of Vermont heard testimony from high-ranking officials about the need for SB 148 and began the process of reviewing the bill’s language.
As it stands now The Vermont DiggerAccording to reports, the bill contains a number new requirements to ensure that frontline communities are able access environmental benefits and have fair participation in public discussions.
Sen. Kesha Ram hinsdale says that we shouldn’t base our decisions on who is willing to take part in something, who seeks a grant, or who talks the most to the state. We must start to see where there is distress. How can we help these communities?
According to the bills findings water contaminants such as lead and the toxic chemical PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl compounds) are more prevalent in Vermont communities with higher BIPOC (Black and Indigenous peoples of color) and individuals of low income.
SB 148The state Agency of Natural Resources proposes to establish an advisory council on environmental justice. It will consist of members of the state, members of social justice organizations, state officials, representatives of mobile home parks, members of Native American Tribes, and other people who are affected by environmental impacts.
The bill also requires the state to use a mapping tool that measures environmental burdens at smallest possible geographic level, reports The Vermont Digger.
All state agencies will be required to adopt a plan for community engagement by July 1, 2024. This plan would examine how agencies interact with each other and provide for the environmental justice communities.
The bill states that out of all the states that are eligible for environmental, renewable energy and climate mitigation funds, the state must spend at least 55% in environmental justice communities.
Peter Walke, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation says that the agency and department are committed in completing the work. He says that the amount of time that agency staff have available to it is not sufficient to complete the work required by this bill. We should therefore think about that.
The bill’s authors encouraged members of the committee to take a small step forward by working on it.
This bill is a small step in the right direction. We need to create a blueprint, a framework, so we can launch into much more. Elena Mihaly, vice-president and director of Conservation Law Foundation Vermont says that this bill is a very modest first step. The bill’s language was recently revised by the organization.
She says this is the right time to act to create that infrastructure.