The Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee and the Climate, Energy, and Environment Policy Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) jointly adopted a new Environmental Justice Toolkit (EJ Toolkit) on July 26, 2017. The EJ Toolkit was carefully conceived, researched, and written by the COG Air and Climate Public Advisory Committee (ACPAC), comprised of volunteers from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, with support from COG staff.
As a Vice Chair of ACPAC, I am proud of our group’s work and of the joint committees in adopting this new toolkit for staff in their home jurisdictions, COG staff, and others around the region to use to better incorporate the principles of environmental justice throughout their work.
The EJ Toolkit was developed to help address issues of equity, access to decision makers, and meaningful engagement of the public, when making decisions that affect the local and regional environment. These decisions include, but are not limited to, permitting, facility siting, transportation, and other measures that impact the quality of the air and affect the health conditions for thousands of people who have made their home in the region.
Looking to have a greater impact than working separately as individuals, ACPAC members joined together to address concerns about air quality as an environmental health and justice issue. Combining our collective knowledge, ACPAC hopes that the toolkit will help inform decision makers’ work on cross-jurisdictional air quality, climate, and energy initiatives.
ACPAC agreed that such an undertaking must include analysis and input from advocates who are working in and are a part of the communities facing environmental justice issues across the region. COG staff and ACPAC members reached out to local and regional groups, academics, and residents to gain insight on what communities typically ask of their state and local representatives about decisions affecting their community. ACPAC’s next mission was to connect COG members to resources on what environmental justice is and how it is formulated within communities to ensure that decision making for the public involves the public; particularly those most likely to be impacted.
Then, ACPAC members researched best practices and stories of private and public partnerships that included community members in the process of fashioning policy. At each stage, we made overtures to community groups, activists, academics, and others to inform the EJ Toolkit. Through all the hard work of ACPAC members and everyone involved, it is our desire that the EJ Toolkit becomes a “go to” resource for the region’s leaders as they respond to all residents of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia who depend on their leadership to ensure equity in clean air and climate policies.
Tamara Toles O’Laughlin is the Vice Chair of the COG Air and Climate Public Advisory Committee. She is the Executive Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network (MdEHN) based in Baltimore, Maryland.