Everyone should have a fair chance to live the healthiest life possible, but that’s not always the case for many of our communities. That’s particularly true of overburdened communities that bear the brunt of pollution and toxic chemical exposures. But help may be on the way in Maryland in the form of the Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Act of 2023, and I testified in strong support of the bill on February 23.
Whenever a company or facility projects that it will need to emit a significant amount of pollution, state agencies approve what’s called a “permit.” In Maryland, state agencies have permitted companies to locate harmful, unhealthy, and dangerous projects in ways that overburden communities, especially low-wealth communities and communities of color. These polluters and facilities harm our health, our jobs, and our property values, and they often lead to increased emissions that contribute to climate change.
Maryland’s permitting process doesn’t currently consider these real-world impacts. Even more, communities nearby have not been consulted about where these projects get built, and in many cases, have been left out of this process entirely.
New legislation would help deliver environmental justice
The Maryland Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Act of 2023 (SB 743/HB 840), sponsored by state Sen. Michael A. Jackson and Del. Regina T. Boyce, will help address environmental injustices at the permitting level for projects that impact the land, air, and water — like industrial operations, wastewater treatment plants, highway expansions, mining operations, power plants, and landfills.
More specifically, the legislation would:
- Ensure that key state agencies in Maryland are held accountable to the state’s climate, environmental justice, and labor goals;
- Require thorough planning, evaluation, reporting, and mitigation of negative impacts on underserved or overburdened communities before polluters are permitted to operate;
- Foster measurable communication between the Maryland Department of the Environment, environmental permit applicants, and underserved or overburdened communities; and
- Allow Marylanders to receive regular notifications regarding environmental permits that may have a negative impact on their health and well-being.
Measuring up to other states and the EPA
At least 11 other states — including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin — consider the social and economic impacts of environmental projects at the permitting level or address environmental justice head-on.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a memorandum on how environmental justice and equity can be meaningfully incorporated at the permitting level, specifically for air pollution permits. The memo sets up a framework of “principles and practices” that permitting offices can adopt to mitigate the disproportionate effects that a permit approval may have on an overburdened community.
The Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Act of 2023 would help bring Maryland in line with these guidelines and practices of leading states while ensuring that more Marylanders have fairer opportunities when it comes to their jobs, their health, and their lives.
If you live in Maryland and would like to support the Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Act of 2023, you can participate in an action alert from the Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Coalition.
- Organizational sign-on testimony on the Climate, Labor, and Environmental Equity Act of 2023
- Senate Bill 743 hearing before the Maryland Senate Education, Energy, and Environment Committee (begins at 1:24:46)
Banner image by Rebecca Rehr/Maryland League of Conservation Voters