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Vermont House Passes the State’s First Comprehensive Environmental Justice Law

Montpelier – Today, the Vermont House took a critical step forward in addressing a long history of undue environmental injustice by passing Vermont’s first statewide Environmental Justice bill, S.148, with a strong vote in support. The bill will next go back to the Senate to consider the changes made by the House. 

“For too long, low-income Vermonters and Vermonters of color have borne a disproportionate share of environmental burdens and had less access to a healthy environment and cost- and carbon-cutting clean energy opportunities,” said Johanna Miller, Energy and Climate Program Director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “S.148 is critical to truly begin addressing these disparities, and today’s decisive House vote is the next essential step to move this good bill into law.”

The Environmental Justice bill is a high priority of the environmental community this session, and will be critical in bringing Vermont in line with the majority of other states working to design meaningful solutions for justice through deep public engagement and partnership with those most impacted by undue environmental harm. The bill would create the first statutory definition of environmental justice in Vermont, build a framework for the state to better address structural inequities, and create a path for Vermont to work towards a future where a clean environment is prioritized and accessible for all. 

Many Black, Indigenous, Vermonters of color and environmental justice experts worked to inform and co-craft this important policy. Recently, many community leaders, advocates, and legislators gathered in Montpelier to call for the passage of S.148 as the House wrapped its work on the bill.

Lauren Hierl, Executive Director of Vermont Conservation Voters added, “Every Vermonter deserves access to a clean and healthy environment, and it’s great to see the strong House vote in support of the Environmental Justice bill. Thank you to all of the Representatives who worked hard to strengthen, support, and advance this legislation, including, among many others, Speaker Jill Krowinski, Rep. Kari Dolan, and Rep. Coach Christie, who showed important leadership on this issue.”

As passed by the House, S.148 would: 

  • Codify the definition of Environmental Justice, making it the State’s policy that no segment of the population should, because of its racial, cultural, or economic makeup, bear a disproportionate share of environmental benefits or burdens;
  • Create an Environmental Justice Advisory Council, comprised of key community stakeholders with real power to influence decision-making and best practices for environmental justice, through meaningful public engagement processes and analysis of cumulative environmental burdens;
  • Build a statewide Environmental Justice Mapping Tool as a visual assessment for navigating environmental justice issues across Vermont;
  • Require state agencies to adopt formal community engagement plans to ensure every Vermont resident has the opportunity to participate in decision making that impacts their health and wellbeing; and 
  • Set a target for investment in environmental justice populations, encouraging the state to proactively deliver environmental benefits to communities most-impacted by historic injustices.