Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 18, 2008

New Oregon Environmental Justice Law Creates Task Force and Requires Agencies to Take Specific Steps to Increase Public Participation

Effective January 1, 2008, a new law in Oregon not only establishes an environmental justice task force, but it requires the natural resources agencies (fourteen in all) to follow prescribed steps to provide greater public participation and to ensure the involvement of persons who may be affected by agency actions.

The task force consists of twelve (12) members who are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the governor. The task force is charged with: advising the Governor on environmental justice issues; advising natural resource agencies on environmental justice issues, including community concerns and public participation processes; identifying, in cooperation with natural resource agencies, minority and low-income communities that may be affected by environmental decisions made by the agencies; meeting with environmental justice communities and making recommendations to the Governor regarding concerns raised by these communities; and defining environmental justice issues in the State.

The new law further directs the natural resources agencies to do the following for purposes of ensuring greater public participation: 1) In making a determination whether and how to act, consider the effects of the action on environmental justice issues. 2) Hold hearings at times and in locations that are convenient for people in the communities that will be affected by the decisions stemming from the hearings. 3) Engage in public outreach activities in the communities that will be affected by decisions of the agency. 4) Create a citizen advocate position that is responsible for: encouraging public participation; ensuring that the agency considers environmental justice issues; and informing the agency of the effect of its decisions on communities traditionally underrepresented in public processes.

Lastly, the new law requires all directors of natural resource agencies, and other agency directors as the Governor may designate, to report annually to the Environmental Justice Task Force and to the Governor on the results of the agencies’ efforts to: address environmental justice issues; increase public participation of individuals and communities affected by agencies’ decisions; determine the effect of the agencies’ decisions on traditionally underrepresented communities; and improve plans to further the progress of environmental justice in Oregon.

Chapter 909 of the Oregon Laws of 2007 (S.B. 420). The full text of the new law can be accessed at: http://www.leg.state.or.us/07orlaws/sess0900.dir/0909.htm  

For more information about what the states are doing to address environmental justice, see an excellent 2007 report prepared by the Public Law Research Institute of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law entitled, “Environmental Justice For All: A Fifty State Survey of Legislation, Policies and Cases,” available at: http://www.uchastings.edu/site_files/plri/EJ2007.pdf  


Responses

  1. Thanks for taking notice. I currently chair the Task Force, and wrote a law review on it called, Environmental Justice in Oregon: It’s The Law, for Lewis and Clark’s Environmental Law Review. We can be accessed via the Oregon Governors web page. We have distinct challenges but are moving forward in a collaborative and inclusionary manner. ALS 81


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