City of Somerville

Agenda Item

Supporting the Environmental Justice Act (MA Bills H.2913 and S.426).


Department:City CouncilSponsors:Ward Three City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, Ward Five City Councilor Mark Niedergang, j and the Entire Board

Official Text




H.2913/S.426 - An Act Relative to Environmental Justice and Toxics Reduction in the Commonwealth


WHEREAS:              The constitution of Massachusetts declares that every person in the Commonwealth “shall have a right to clean air and water”; and


WHEREAS:              The Massachusetts Environmental Justice Policy, most recently updated in 2017, states that “all communities must have a strong voice in environmental decision-making regardless of race, color, national origin, income, or English language proficiency,”; and


WHEREAS:              Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, often in dense urban areas near former industrial sites, continue to be disproportionately affected by pollution of air, water, and soil, yet are often unable to meaningfully guide economic development policy in their own communities, according to The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; and


WHEREAS:              Among municipalities in Massachusetts, Somerville and other Mystic River Watershed communities represent several of the “most extensively overburdened communities” affected by ecological hazards, as defined by extensive scholarly research (Faber & Krieg 2005); and


WHEREAS:              Addressing Environmental Justice presents significant governance challenges in that it requires close coordination between sectors such as housing, energy, transportation, public health, and open space; and


WHEREAS:              The Environmental Justice Act (H.2913 / S.426, An Act Relative to Environmental Justice and Toxics Reduction in the Commonwealth) would greatly facilitate the coordination of state agencies related to the aforementioned sectors; NOW THEREFORE, BE IT


RESOLVED:              That the Somerville Board of Aldermen respectfully urges the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Senate to pass the Environmental Justice Act (H.2913/S.426), which would facilitate the coordination of state agencies to plan for Environmental Justice planning and enforcement; AND BE IT FURTHER


RESOLVED:              That the Somerville Board of Aldermen specifically supports the inclusion of at least four individuals from Environmental Justice Populations to serve on the Environmental Justice Advisory Council; AND BE IT FURTHER


RESOLVED:              That the Somerville Board of Aldermen respectfully encourages a portion of the funds recommended by the Governor for an Environmental Justice Director be used for the hiring of a senior-level Director of Environmental Justice, directly reporting to the Secretary, and an Assistant Director of Environmental Justice or other such staff that the Secretary and Director of EJ find necessary to carry out their duties; AND BE IT FURTHER


RESOLVED:              That this resolution be shared with Somerville’s state legislative delegation; AND BE IT FURTHER


RESOLVED:              That the Somerville Board of Aldermen is committed to seeking equity and environmental justice in our economic development policy decisions, and to addressing the ongoing inequalities in access to clean air, water, and soil in Massachusetts along race, class, and national origin lines.

Meeting History

Apr 26, 2018 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting

Alderman Ewen-Campen described the Environmental Justice Act and introduced Bonnie Cohen, a Somerville resident and a Member of Mothers Out Front. She referred to research from 2015 that showed that in Massachusetts low-income communities face cumulative exposure to environmentally hazardous facilities and sites that is 4 times greater then high-income communities, and that high-minority communities face cumulative exposure that is over 20 times greater then low-minority communities. That alone is convincing evidence for a statewide policy, but to bring the issue even closer to home, Somerville ranks 8th in the State for total environmental hazards per square mile, and 16th for the most overall hazards. This research didn't even include some of the impacts that are most prevalent in Somerville, such as proximity to major traffic arteries, lack of green space, and home hazards such as mold and lead paint. Separate research led by Tufts and community researchers, known as the CAFEH report, included Somerville and found a positive association between the ultra-fine particles in traffic pollution and health issues such as stroke, ischemic heart disease, and hypertension. People of color and low-income were disproportionately impacted. The Environmental Justice Act is an excellent opportunity for governmental action, and Mothers Out Front urges the Board to support it.