November 22, 2022
The Colorado Environmental Justice Action Task Force.
A coalition of environmental organizations welcome the final recommendations of Colorado’s Environmental Justice Action Task Force, which provide detailed guidance for lawmakers and state agencies to meet Colorado’s environmental justice goals.
Gov. Jared Polis signed the Environmental Justice Act into law on July 2, 2021. The act states that “all people have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, participate freely in decisions that affect their environments, live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, experience equal protection provided by environmental policies, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant pollution-free economy.”
The 22-member Environmental Justice Action Task Force was created by the act, and members worked to achieve the law’s goals by identifying and addressing disparities in access to environmental benefits and exposures to environmental pollution. Task Force members were appointed by the governor and legislative leadership and represented a wide variety of technical expertise and backgrounds.
“Colorado set ambitious environmental justice goals in 2021,” said Meera Fickling, senior climate policy analyst at WRA and a member of the Task Force. “After a year of hard work and collecting input from communities across the state, the Task Force’s recommendations offer state lawmakers a roadmap to achieving those goals. We urge the General Assembly and state agencies to adopt these recommendations, as they could truly improve the lives of those most impacted by decades of exposure to environmental pollution.”
“Our recommendations embody the collective effort of our statewide Environmental Justice coalition that championed the passage of the Environmental Justice Act and have committed their best effort to bring change to impacted communities,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, GreenLatinos Colorado state director and co-chair of the Task Force. “Acknowledging the historic harm whose legacy still impacts our communities isn’t enough — we must make lasting change using data driven solutions, hand in hand with community, and ensure that future resources are brought to these communities. At the heart of all of this work is the people, and GreenLatinos will continue the work of implementing these efforts with the people and the government. We can transform together!”
“It’s taken a long time and trauma in our communities to finally address environmental racism,” said Renée M. Chacon, executive director and co-founder of Womxn from the Mountain, and a member of the Task Force. “With these recommendations being the first real push towards equity and justice, don’t stop now Colorado — hold state and federal agencies to the high standards to relearning who are the communities and Biosphere they are accountable to protect.
“Justice is long overdue for communities experiencing disparate health and climate impacts caused by the ongoing permitting of industries to pollute and degrade our environment,” said Jamie Valdez, Colorado community organizer for Mothers Out Front and a member of the Task Force. “The recommendations of the Task Force represent the minimum that state agencies can and should already be implementing in order to begin to work toward that justice. Mothers Out Front is proud to express our full support for the recommendations of the task force, and we urge Colorado state legislators and regulatory agencies to embrace them and enact the strongest protections for our health and environment possible so we can create a livable, more equitable future for our children and our children’s children.”
“These recommendations are a clear pathway to equitable community participation in the decisions that impact our daily lives,” said Hilda Nucete, co-chair of the Colorado Health Equity Commission, director of civic engagement at League of Conservation Voters, and a member of the Task Force. “Community has made it clear that the current participatory processes do not allow for the voices of the most affected to be heard. Even when they speak out, it doesn’t seem to result in any change from the status quo. It’s time for that to stop! It’s essential that these recommendations are adopted by the agencies. The community will be looking to the governor and the General Assembly to build a legacy and implement these recommendations through legislation this session.”
The Task Force held seven public meetings between December 2021 and November 2022. The group submitted their final recommendations to Gov. Polis, state legislators, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on Nov. 14.
The Task Force approved several key recommendations, including:
- Agencies that take actions that could significantly impact public health or the environment — such as major rulemakings, permitting actions for polluting facilities, and funding and planning — should use best practices to engage communities in these decisions. These best practices include scheduling multiple meetings; providing interpretation services, childcare, and participation incentives; using diverse outreach methods; inviting community input early in the decision-making process; and publishing materials using languages that are accessible to the community.
- The legislature should expand the role of the Environmental Justice Advisory Board to include new functions, such as advising multiple state agencies on environmental justice policy and best practices for community engagement. Also created by the Environmental Justice Act, the Board comprises 12 volunteers who are appointed by the governor and CDPHE.
- The legislature should adopt a program for centralized Environmental Equity and Cumulative Impacts Analyses, and this should be created and updated by independent third-party consultants or academic institutions. All state agencies that make decisions that impact the environment should use and implement the equity analyses program in their decision making, including in permitting, rulemaking, and funding decisions.
- The consultants or academic institutions conducting equity analyses should ask the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe if and how they would like to be included in the process of developing the program. If the Tribal governments are interested in participating, they should be fully included, active participants and partners, with funding options for capacity building.
- CDPHE should select and track environmental justice metrics in order to measure progress on reducing environmental and health disparities in communities.