The Washington Department of Agriculture says it will need nearly $1 million every two years to carry out environmental justice legislation passed last spring by Democrats.
The new law will require the department and six other state agencies to assess how rules, legislation and spending will help or harm “overburdened communities” and “vulnerable populations.”
The assessments start in 2023. The agriculture department anticipates doing 50 to 70 every two years, policy adviser Kelly McLain said Monday.
“Without additional resources, this added process could slow down the administrative work that has to happen with a rule,” she said.
The Healthy Environment for All Act was hailed by Democrats as landmark legislation to remedy environmental and health disparities caused by racism. Republicans warned about vague mandates and giving power to unelected activists.
The bill originally proposed turning over control of policies and spending to an environmental justice council picked by the governor. As the bill moved through the Legislature, the council was reduced to an advisory role.
The bill still has extensive new requirements for the agriculture department, the Department of Ecology, Department of Commerce, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of Transportation and Puget Sound Partnership. Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, volunteered his office to come under the law.
The agencies must write community engagement and environmental justice plans, and prioritize spending on areas based on factors such as education, income and race.
The agriculture department estimated last spring it would need $308,400 to carry out the bill for the first two years. Lawmakers appropriated only $144,000.
The department, taking a closer look at the legislation that finally passed, has concluded it will need another $477,000 a year for the next several years, in addition to the money already appropriated.
The department has requested the money to be in the budget proposal that Inslee will submit to lawmakers in December.
The department says it will need to hire three more people: an environmental justice manager, an environmental justice analyst and a community engagement specialist.
The wages and benefits for the three positions are projected to cost $456,703 a year.
The law may evolve as agencies consult with the environmental justice council, McLain said. The governor will appoint the 14-member council, choosing people “committed to the principles of environmental justice,” according to law. The council is due to begin meeting before the end of the year.
McLain said she believes the department does a good job engaging the public and considering the environmental consequences of its decisions. She said she hasn’t been able to identify a rule that would have been changed by an environmental justice assessment.
“I think we’re excited for the opportunity to reinforce what we’re already doing,” she said.