Lawmakers and advocates push environmental justice bill
MONTPELIER, Vermont (WCAX) — Making public policy fair for all citizens is the goal of an environmental justice bill nearing the finish line at the Statehouse.
Vermont is home to some 7,000 mobile homes, many with decades-old drinking water and sewage systems that are almost always built on private property.
“They’re largely excluded from the public funding conversation simply because they’re recognized as a private organization,” said Nate Lantieri of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity Mobile Home Program.
And water infrastructure is just one of the challenges. Lantieri says extreme weather conditions also pose challenges. While seven percent of the state’s population lives in mobile homes, he says they accounted for 40% of flood victims during Tropical Storm Irene.
“The longer we delay this, the closer we get to an unsustainable solution for these communities,” Lantieri said.
Lawmakers are looking for a way to get more voices from mobile home owners at the decision-making table. That’s the idea behind a bill that would create the state’s first environmental justice policy, giving low-income Vermonters a seat at the table. Supporters say Vermont is one of the few states without an environmental justice policy.
“You’re not just looking at who is experiencing health disparities or a lack of environmental benefits, but how we’re getting that infrastructure and environmental benefits into those communities,” said D-County Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale. Chittenden.
Under the bill, state agencies would be required to view state policy through an equity lens. It defines who is considered part of an “environmental justice population” and creates an advisory committee of 11 people appointed by lawmakers made up of members of marginalized and low-income groups, including mobile home communities, isolated people , migrant farm workers and new Americans. .
“This is as much an economic development and redevelopment bill as it is a public health and environmental health bill,” said Rep. Kari Dolan, D-Waitsfield.
The measure would also create an online mapping tool to track the impacts of pollution, traffic, weather and other disproportionate environmental burdens on marginalized communities. Lawmakers say it will also help track progress on housing, health, education and more. “When we can compare our invested dollars, where they go, for what purpose and for what benefits and results,” Dolan said.
The bill calls for about $700,000 to pay for the mapping tool and fund new positions, but some have said it would cost more than $3 million to properly fund the effort.
With the end of the session set for next Friday, advocates hope to get Bill across the finish line by then.
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