All Washington residents, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, have a right to live, work, and recreate in a clean and healthy environment. Low-income communities, communities of color, and Indigenous people in Washington and across the country often bear the brunt of pollution and the impacts of climate change. Our mission to sustain and protect Washington’s natural resources cannot be achieved without putting equity and environmental justice at the forefront.
What is environmental justice?
Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and has equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
What is DNR doing?
In 2021, the legislature adopted the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act (RCW 70A.02). This historic law provides a multiyear roadmap for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other state agencies to integrate environmental justice (EJ) into strategic plans and decision-making processes. Starting in the fall of 2021, DNR and six other state agencies (Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Ecology, Health, Transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership) began meeting with Environmental Justice Council staff to collaborate on the development, authorship, and adoption of this interagency Community Engagement Guide for the first HEAL Act milestone on July 1, 2022.
This document reflects close to 10 months of partnership between the HEAL Act agencies and it remains a work in progress.
The HEAL Act states that in developing and updating community engagement plans, covered agencies “must consider any guidance developed by the [EJ] council.” To facilitate this, the legislation directed the Department of Health to convene the Council’s first meeting by January 1, 2022. Due to delays in the appointment process, the EJ Council was not fully appointed and seated until March 2022 and did not convene its first meeting until April 4. As a result, it has not reviewed the current versions of the interagency DRAFT community engagement guide nor any other agency-specific community engagement plans. DNR and other agencies have reaffirmed their commitment to seek guidance and revise plans based on the recommendations of the EJ Council.
DNR is committed to a strong partnership with the EJ Council as we integrate environmental justice into agency activities. We recognize the importance of the Council as community representatives that function in concert with the community relationships we have developed as an agency. The EJ Council recommendations are a critical tool in creating a plan that DNR will implement. While we await that process of EJ Council review, we are also mindful of our duty to the legislature and people of Washington to adopt a community engagement plan by July 1, 2022.
In balancing these interests and obligations, our agency is adopting a provisional community engagement plan. The future implementation of this provisional plan is dependent on coordination with the EJ Council and will incorporate guidance from the Council and communities across Washington state on specific activities and strategies. It will include a robust Tribal Consultation process that is currently being finalized within the agency. Following adoption of the provisional community engagement plan, DNR will collaborate with other HEAL Act agencies and the Council to hold community listening sessions. These sessions and ongoing discussions with the EJ Council will inform further updates and the necessary and expected changes to our provisional community engagement plans.
DNR’s commitment to environmental justice is not limited to the requirements outlined within the HEAL Act. Divisions and programs are launching standalone environmental justice plans that align with the 2022-2025 DNR Strategic Plan, the DNR Environmental Justice Implementation Plan, and the Washington State Pro-Equity, Anti-Racism Plan to expand our work creating more equitable public lands and programs. These will be released over the coming year and provide specific, program-level tactics, strategies, and goals, with the overarching goal of ensuring environmental benefits are shared equitably, and that all DNR programs address environmental justice.
DNR divisions and programs are well into the process of drafting their own plans. The Forest Resilience Division released the first completed plan in July 2023.
Additional plans from the following divisions and programs will be posted as they are completed: Aquatics, Forest Regulation, Forest Resources, Natural Resources Police, Natural Heritage Program, Product Sales and Leasing, Recreation, Washington Geologic Survey, and Wildfire.
DNR will continue to be an active partner with the EJ Council as this community engagement plan is refined annually. Authentic community engagement is our forever work and enhances our ability to equitably serve all Washingtonians.
A central value in this work is transparency.
Additional information and resources on DNR and the HEAL Act will be updated on this page (dnr.wa.gov/environmentaljustice)
In early 2023, DNR has released and updated the following plans for the agency:
- DNR's Environmental Justice Implementation Plan
- Updated Draft Provisional Community Engagement Plan
- DNR’s Draft Environmental Justice/Interagency Implementation Timeline
- DNR’s Tribal Consultation Policy (2023)
- 2022-2025 DNR Strategic Plan
Each of these are awaiting Environmental Justice Council review and are in various stages of consultation with Tribal Nations. We look forward to updating this page soon with more resources and information about DNR’s efforts to embed Environmental Justice practices into our agency’s work on behalf of Washingtonians.