By Guy Page
With only Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex/Orleans) voting no, the Vermont Senate yesterday gave final approval to S148, the ‘environmental justice’ bill.
S148 creates a new advisory board and requires new state policies because “Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (BIPOC) and low-income individuals are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards and unsafe housing, facing higher levels of air and water pollution, mold, lead, and pests.”
The bill cites these examples:
- BIPOC and low-income communities nationally face disproportionately negative impacts of agency decisions, such as approving permits for facilities like mines and landfills.
- Water contaminants like lead and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are disproportionately found in Vermont communities with higher populations of BIPOC and low-income individuals.
- Cumulative impacts of environmental harms, including air and water pollution, low-quality housing stock, and greater exposure to extreme weather events disproportionately and adversely impact the health of BIPOC and low-income communities.
- BIPOC individuals own less than 2 percent of private woodland, only approximately 0.9 percent of agricultural land, and 0.6 percent of forestland, which is largely made up of Abenaki tribal ownership in Vermont.
- The Center for American Progress finds that 76 percent of BIPOC individuals in Vermont live in “nature deprived” census tracts with a higher proportion of natural areas lost to human activities than the Vermont median. In contrast, 20 percent of White individuals live in these areas.
The bill requires:
- An environmental justice policy for the State of Vermont
- State agencies incorporate environmental justice into their work and track all complaints to the contrary
- Establish the per-diem Advisory Council on Environmental Justice within the Agency of
- Natural Resources to advise the State on environmental justice issues, policies and legislation
- Creation of an environmental justice mapping tool.
The bill now proceeds to the Vermont House. For Ingalls, opposing the bill was a simply question of fairness.
“It discriminates against other poor people,” Ingalls said. “I don’t want to discriminate against anyone. If you have two poor people, and one is a person of color, the person of color is more than likely going to be helped before that other equally deserving person. Color should not make a difference.”