In March 2020, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam permanently established the state Council on Environmental Justice as part of the Virginia Environmental Justice Act after it operated temporarily for almost two years. Both the state House and Senate passed versions of the Virginia Environmental Justice Act dedicated to environmental justice policy across Virginia.
The 27-member council consists of individuals from many sectors, including public health and civil rights advocates, and aims to serve as an aid to the governor through recommendations centered around protecting vulnerable communities from being disproportionately impacted by environmental issues like pollution and climate change.
Issues of environmental justice have recently been at the forefront of public attention in Virginia as the historically Black community of Union Hill fought a proposed compressor station that was part of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The creation of a permanent council has been part of a greater push to incorporate environmental justice into the operations of state and governmental agencies. The bill aims to ensure state agencies develop environmental justice policies that are incorporated into their decision-making.
Appalachian Voices, which publishes The Appalachian Voice, advocated for the bill as part of the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative.
Jay Ford is a current member of the council and supporter of the action to make the council permanent.
“Given the growing environmental justice challenges we face from climate change, it is now more important than ever that Virginians have a meaningful and permanent venue to be heard,” Ford told The Virginia Mercury in March. — By Emerson Wells