Enhancing the ability to serve the growing demands for environmental justice in Oregon
HB 4077 codifies the existing Environmental Justice Task Force (EJTF) as the Environmental Justice Council, which will have more resources to equitably address climate change in Oregon. The Environmental Justice Task Force is currently charged with advising the Governor and natural resource agencies on environmental justice issues. The task force acts as the connection between state agencies and the public to raise concerns brought by environmental justice communities.
“As a task force our work was less than optimum because of limited resources. Becoming a council with additional coordination responsibilities between state agencies and environmental justice communities with more meaningful resources will serve the people of Oregon well,” says Jim Krieder, who serves on the Environmental Justice Task Force.
The Task Force is currently serving without a budget or staff. With the new dedicated resources, the EJTF – revitalized as the Environmental Justice Council – would be better supported to reach environmental justice communities across Oregon.
Climate disasters and climate-related events have impacted Oregon with increasing frequency in recent years. These events disproportionately impact areas that have low income and areas where Black, Indigenous, Native American, Tribal, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, immigrants and refugees and communities of color reside.
“The task force is made up of volunteers like me who are there because we are personally invested in environmental justice,” said Quinn Read, who serves on the Environmental Justice Task Force. “The task force has used its limited resources very efficiently, but the truth is that we are stretched thin. This bill gives us necessary tools and resources to continue our work to protect Oregon’s most vulnerable communities.”
It has been shown that Black, Indigenous, and people of color have less access to resources that could help when climate disasters hit.
For example, it was found that white families in communities with damage from climate disasters saw an increase in wealth due to generous reinvestment initiatives. However, Black, Indigenous, people of color, and Tribal members in communities with similar damage from natural disasters saw a smaller increase in wealth or they actually saw a decrease in wealth (Princeton).
You can visit Unite Oregon’s website for more information on the ways that climate change disproportionately affects Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.
Valentín C. Sánchez, who serves on the Environmental Justice Task Force, says “The new fully functional Task Force will create meaningful opportunities for EJ communities across the state to raise critical issues with the Task Force. For example, farmworkers who suffer from working in high heat conditions and live in labor housing that provides little to no relief from the heat and other elements.
Sánchez also says the access to new data will be important. “We have limited data on issues impacting farmworkers who live in isolated, rural areas, face wildfire smoke, workplace pesticide exposure, heat stress, lack of public transportation, affordable housing, and many other EJ issues.”
HB 4077 will create equity mapping and an environmental justice council in Oregon to include Oregon’s most vulnerable populations in policy conversations around climate-change mitigation.
“When it comes to addressing environmental and climate justice, geospatial tools, like the environmental justice mapping tool created through HB 4077, are a powerful ally to make collaborative, data driven decisions,” said Jairaj Singh, who is the Clackamas County Chapter Director at Unite Oregon. “These tools have the ability to identify disadvantaged and vulnerable communities that should be prioritized to account for historic and present harms and lack of disinvestment.”
Data is an essential tool for determining the scope of environmental burdens and benefits on Oregon’s highly impacted and most vulnerable communities.
“In order to best serve Oregonians and put environmental justice into practice, we need to have a tool that lets us see where the most impacted communities live and how their environment, health, and livelihood is being disproportionately affected,” said Manjeet Kaur, who is Unite Oregon’s policy organizer.
The use of Oregon-specific health related data, socioeconomic information, and environmental disparities can be layered together to give a more holistic picture of environmental justice in the state. Similar to efforts in other states and at the federal level, data and mapping can be helpful in determining how to develop policies and programs that alleviate burdens and yield environmental benefits for vulnerable and highly impacted communities.
“Oregon needs to invest in bolstering our statewide environmental justice infrastructure by modifying membership and duties of the Environmental Justice Council,” said Jairaj Singh, Unite Oregon. “The Environmental Justice Council increases the capacity for broader representation, including the addition of a youth member to represent future generations.”