Community leaders and legislators gathered to discuss environmental justice in Vermont, and the actions being taken to remedy known inequities among impacted populations. Vermont is one of few states that lacks an environmental justice policy, and the passage of S.148, has become a priority for environmental and social justice organizations across the state.
Neighboring states, including Maine, are exploring similar paths towards greater environmental equity. The Maine legislature passed a law last month requiring the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future to define ‘environmental justice’ and other related terms, and develop methods incorporating equity into decision making in state agencies.
“Environmental justice is a lens, it’s a way to look at ensuring no one is left behind … and a way of ensuring that resources get to those who need them most,” said Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, kicking off the event and welcoming the broad coalition of environmental justice and social justice advocates. Sen. Ram Hinsdale is the lead sponsor of S.148, and first introduced a similar environmental justice framework as a senior at UVM in 2007.
Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, Chair of Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy spoke next, acknowledging the ways that Vermont could take more action to support the populations most impacted by climate change. “While our hearts in our programs are in the right place, the way in which we do our work could be improved, made more inclusive, more respectful, and to learn to move at the speed of trust.” Sen. Bray is supportive of efforts to make the environmental justice legislation a priority this session.
Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, D-Hartford, who co-chairs the Social Equity Caucus with Sen. Ram Hinsdale and is leading environmental justice efforts on the house side added, “we’re going to be taking a very, very close look at how we can prepare Vermont to be the leader we are always expected to be.”
Following legislators expressing statements of support, a broad coalition of speakers joined in to voice their focus on S.148 and an environmental justice framework for Vermont. Kiah Morris of Rights & Democracy and Vermont Renews, emphasized that this work “requires dedicated funds, deep and enduring financial investments, and infrastructures for engagement so that reparations and healing are actually possible.”
A full list of speakers included:
• Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale
• Senator Chris Bray
• Representative Kevin “Coach” Christie
• Judy Dow, Indigenous Scholar and Executive Director of Gedakina
• Dr. Bindu Panikkar, UVM, REJOICE
• Kiah Morris, Rights & Democracy, VT Renews
• Mia Schultz, Rutland Area NAACP, Rights & Democracy
• Steffen Gillom, Windham Area NAACP
• Karen Horen, VLCT
• Hayley Jones, Community Action Works
• Jennifer Byrne, Vermont Law School Environmental Justice Clinic, REJOICE
• Elena Mihaly, Conservation Law Foundation
• Sebbi Wu, Vermont Public Interest Research Group
• Sandrine Kibuey, VTTMHP/CVOEO
• Peter Sterling, Renewable Energy Vermont
• Johanna Miller, Vermont Natural Resources Council
Representatives from the Sierra Club and 350 Vermont, alongside many of S.148’s cosponsors were also present to share their support. As the speakers emphasized, implementing an environmental justice framework will not stop at S.148, but the bill provides a strong framework to build on.