Elfreth’s bill would refine Maryland environmental justice commission
By Madison Hunt
Capital News Service|
Mar 06, 2021 at 1:26 PM
A bill in the Maryland Senate would reform a commission to reflect the diversity within the state and expand to help vulnerable communities affected by environmental justice issues.
SB674, cross-filed as HB1207, would revitalize the commission to meet the needs of vulnerable communities facing environmental hazards, which have only increased because of the coronavirus pandemic, advocates said.
The Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities was established in 2001 and consists of at least 20 members staffed by the Maryland Department of the Environment, according to the bill.
Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, signed a new environmental policy Dec. 31, 2020, which he said outlines modifications to improve the commission and help affected communities.
Environmental justice issues disproportionately affect marginalized groups — people of color, immigrants and low-income communities — according to advocates.
Sen. Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s, one of the Senate sponsors of the bill, said the orientation is critically important.
“Without appropriate orientation and being brought up to speed it takes one a while sitting in the room to get the vocabulary the group is using,” Griffith told Capital News Service. “To get the history of the group’s work, the progress that’s been made and the gaps that exist in their topic area.”
The commission would work with different state agencies and use scientific data and mapping tools to analyze the cumulative impacts of state laws and policies on these communities, according to the bill.
Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland, School of Public Health, worked with the Senate sponsors to bring this bill forward.
In August, Wilson and other Maryland environmental groups sent a letter to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, calling on the Maryland Department of Environment to address clear racial disparities in Maryland’s environmental harms.
Michael Sakata, president and chief executive officer of Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association, testified in opposition, saying that resources should be used to fix the current damage to the state following the pandemic.
“We must focus our resources on the most pressing issues like our crumbling roads and highways, improving public transit options, and addressing economic disparities within Maryland,” Sakata said in his written testimony.
General fund expenditures for the Maryland Department of Environment will increase by $122,648 in fiscal year 2022, which reflects the cost of hiring two administrators to implement the expanded duties of the commission, the bill states.
Currently, the bill doesn’t have any local impact and has minimal effect on small businesses.
The Senate advanced the legislation on Friday and is expected to take up a final vote next week; the House committee has not yet scheduled a vote on its version of the bill.
Capital News Service is part of the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.