Singh: Give Environmental Justice Task Force tools to succeed
It is undeniable that we are facing numerous environmental crises. They are becoming frequent, severe and unpredictable.
We need to reimagine our environmental systems in order to ensure that Oregonians have a future in which they cannot just live but also thrive.
To achieve a more just future for the environment, we have to address the gaps of engagement between marginalized communities and our decision-making processes. People of color, indigenous nations, low-income, rural and coastal communities in Oregon do not have equitable access to these processes.
Members of underrepresented communities often provide their time, expertise and engagement to improve the lives of all Oregonians. Far too often, we are not given adequate resources to do so. We are asked for our voices but not given a platform. We are asked for our lived experiences but are not given resources to make our lives easier.
The Environmental Justice Task Force is a group of volunteer advocates from around Oregon who seek to bridge that gap in engagement. Representing some of Oregon's ethnic, geographic and economic diversity, these volunteers have been dedicated to helping Oregon achieve environmental equity for more than a decade. It is time to support the task force and provide these volunteers with the resources they need to help them achieve their goals on behalf of all Oregonians.
When members of underrepresented communities provide their time, expertise and engagement to improve the lives of all Oregonians, they are providing a crucial service. When we ask underrepresented Oregonians to expend their energy in the hopes that their voices can improve the lives of everyone across the state, we are asking for valuable input that strengthens our ability to create an equitable and sustainable environment for future Oregonians. To ask them to do so without providing any additional resources is to burden communities who are disproportionately facing environmental and social burdens.
As an advisory board of volunteers, the task force does not have the proper resources to invite, engage and retain members. This is partially exemplified by the task force lacking indigenous representation.
Furthermore, while a fair amount of legislative work is virtual during the pandemic, when it is safe for the task force to meet in person, we cannot expect underrepresented communities to travel long distances and do that work without resources.
The task force is an informative, engaging and critical body deemed necessary by the Oregon Legislature more than a decade ago. New legislation this session, Senate Bill 286, simply houses the task force within the Department of Environmental Quality and renames it as the EJ Council to reflect a new chapter in the task force's short but storied history.
SB 286 helps streamline the environmental justice engagement process, removes confusion for commissioners who have to serve on disparately connected bodies, and gives an existing volunteer body of experts teeth to fulfill its mission of protecting all Oregonians. It provides additional tools so that DEQ can better serve underrepresented communities without unduly burdening the agency. It simply provides additional tools so that DEQ can better serve underrepresented communities without unduly burdening the agency.
In an era where urgent climate action is required to ensure an equitable and sustainable landscape and livelihoods for future Oregonians, SB 286 represents a just, practical and efficient step towards realizing that future.
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