Montpelier – Today, the Vermont Senate took a critical step forward in addressing a long history of undue environmental harm by advancing Vermont’s first statewide Environmental Justice bill, S.148, with a unanimous voice vote on second reading of the bill. The bill will be up for its third reading vote in the Senate next week, and then will head to the House for their consideration.
Adverse impacts of climate change overwhelmingly affect communities of color and people with lower incomes. This bill would create the first statutory definition of environmental justice in Vermont, building a framework for the state to better address structural inequity and work towards creating a future where a clean environment is prioritized and accessible for all.
Johanna Miller, Energy & Climate Program Director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council noted, “This bill would bring Vermont in line with other states and begin the work of designing meaningful solutions for justice through engagement and partnership with our most impacted communities. The Senate’s strong vote today is an indication of how critical that work truly is. Thank you to all of the Senators who worked hard to strengthen, support, and advance this legislation, especially Senator Ram Hinsdale, Senator Bray, and President Pro Tem Balint for their leadership.”
This bill has benefited from the leadership of many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and environmental justice experts working to inform and co-craft this important policy. Recently, more than 30 community-based, social justice, environmental and other organizations signed and sent a letter to the Vermont Senate on S.148, laying out why this bill is so important for Vermont.
This bill is also a core component of Vermont Conservation Voters’ (VCV) 2022 Environmental Common Agenda platform and presents an opportunity to elevate environmental justice in Vermont by building and transitioning to more equitable systems that benefit all. Proper investments, community-centered programs, and strong policies are required to address systemic inequities, and a path to do this work exists through enactment of S.148.
As passed by the Senate, 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;
- Establish an initial working definition of “Environmental Justice Population;”
- Commit targeted spending of at least 55% of environmental, renewable energy, climate mitigation, transportation, and climate resilience funds in designated environmental justice populations;
- 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.
Lauren Hierl, Executive Director of Vermont Conservation Voters added, “We look forward to ensuring that S.148 is strengthened, funded, and advanced in the House, and then, signed into law by the Governor. It is long past time to carry this transformative work forward as we build a just and sustainable future for all that call Vermont home.”
For a more in-depth overview of S.148 from the bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, you can watch VNRC and VCV’s recent Climate Dispatch with the Senator and Conservation Law Foundation’s Elena Mihaly here.