Climate policies are undeniably strengthened by the inputs of communities most likely to be impacted by such policies. Similarly, exclusion or lack of involvement of communities poised to suffer the detrimental impact of climate change and pollution unequivocally lead to ineffective policies. Communities of color and low-income communities often suffer the repercussions of flawed environmental policies. Hence, for communities to stay resilient in enduring the challenges of a changing climate, it is important to ensure that emerging policies are formed with inputs from the most impacted communities.
Flawed environmental and climate policy decision-making that excluded the voices of vulnerable communities dates back to the 80s. In 1982, residents of Warren County in North Carolina, engaged in a protest to fight against the dumping of 40,000 cubic yards of PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) contaminated soil in their community. PCB chemicals were banned in the United States in 1979 because they harm human and environmental health but are persistent in air, water, and waste. That early demonstration against environmental racism and injustice was the first of many, exposing the injustice that persists when policies exclude the needs of the most vulnerable groups and communities. Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent climate assessment to reiterate the impact climate would have on communities (cities and settlements) situated by the sea or ocean. For these ‘frontline communities’, mitigating climate change impacts demand that their voices and lived experiences need to shape the resultant policies for their specific climate solutions.
Maine’s trailblazing effort to engage Vulnerable Communities to Climate Change
Acadia Center championed LD1682 in Maine with the understanding that state agencies should consider climate and equity in their mandates, starting with the Public Utility Commission (PUC). LD 1682 – An Act to Require Consideration of Climate Impacts by the Public Utilities Commission and To Incorporate Equity Considerations in Decision-making by State Agencies was considered one of the most far-reaching, impactful climate and equity bills in the 130th Legislature. Parties in PUC cases are already using the law as a basis for stronger PUC actions related to climate change. Environmental and climate justice can help empower Maine’s communities to be healthier and more resilient, and state agencies must support this work.
The passage of LD1682 became the groundwork for the passage of LD2018 – Act to Implement Recommendations Regarding the Incorporation of Equity Considerations in Regulatory Decision Making. With the implementation of this bill, access to proceedings and the decision-making process would be made possible for environmental justice communities, frontline communities, lower-income communities, and communities of color. More importantly, this bill creates opportunities for supposedly hard-to-reach communities to have access to proceedings that will determine their readiness for climate change. It puts environmental justice and climate action at the center of the state government’s work.
As agencies at all levels of government continue to make strides to undo climate change and ensure a smooth transition to clean energy, it is important to ensure that all communities partake in the policy and decision-making process. A key strategy for equitably tackling climate issues that communities face is continuously improving access to public forums that inform and educate. Including this crucial effort goes beyond providing a balanced perspective in climate policy. It allows communities to have a more productive outcome in effecting change by not reacting but informing the decision-making process.
For more information:
Joy Yakie, Environmental Justice Associate, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-742-0054 x110
Jeff Marks, Maine State Director, email@example.com, 207.236.6470 ext. 304