Vermont lawmakers and advocacy groups gathered together for a discussion on environmental justice in Vermont and outlined steps to address inequality in how climate change impacts the state’s population.
“Environmental justice is a way of ensuring that resources get to those who need them most. Some would call environmental justice the intersection of poverty, pollution and power,” said Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, (D) Chittenden.
Some Vermont lawmakers are looking forward to a future where environmental justice is enshrined in state law. Senator Hinsdale has sponsored a bill that would boost data collection to find out whether some communities are feeling the impact of climate change harder than others.
Senator Christopher Bray, (D) Addison, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy says Vermont needs to take this on before it’s too late.
“While our hearts and our programs are in the right place, the way in which we do our work could be improved, made more inclusive, more respectful. Despite all our best intentions, we have not reached all Vermonters who could benefit from the state’s programs.”
A University of Vermont study found that BIPOC individuals in Vermont were seven times more likely to have gone without heat in the past year, and over two times more likely to have trouble affording electricity.
Dr. Bindu Panikkar, an assistant professor at UVM, said environmental inequities have been building for centuries, and Vermont is no different. “What we found in our studies is that BIPOC and people with limited English proficiency were significantly more at risk from adverse environmental exposures, historic sites of pollution, heat vulnerability and environmental pollution.”
The bill in question was introduced last session but never gained any traction. State Representative Kevin Christie, (D) Windsor, who co-chairs the social equity caucus, hopes this time will be different.
“Environmental justice is social justice. We are going to be taking, during this session, a very very close look at how we can prepare Vermont to be the leader that we are always expected to be.”
Lawmakers will also be discussing the Climate Action Plan, which provides an ambitious four-year roadmap that would see the state shifting away from fossil fuels and expanding electric vehicle incentives.