The Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force Wednesday released its first biannual report outlining policy recommendations to address disparities in communities of color disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The Environmental Justice and Inclusion Subcommittee provided recommendations to increase the consideration of environmental justice and equity concerns in state decision-making and address environmental and economic impacts in disadvantaged communities.
“Together we have committed to be bold and to challenge the status quo by bringing forth impactful and long-lasting change with every recommendation we make,” said subcommittee member and North Carolina NAACP President, Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman. “This team intent on peering through the lens of equity wholeheartedly agree that lives do matter and the return we will get on our investment for doing just and right will yield greater returns than any monetary return on investments ever will.”
The subcommittee members include Reverend Dr. Spearman; Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr., the Director of Urban Investment Strategies Center, Kenan-Flagler School of Business and chair of DEQ's Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board; Greg Richardson, the Executive Director of the Commission of Indian Affairs; Reverend Dr. Jonathan Augustine, the Pastor of St. Joseph African Methodist Church; and Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael S. Regan, who serves as the subcommittee chair.
The subcommittee’s goals and recommendations include the creation of environmental justice, equity, and inclusion positions across state agencies, starting with the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, Natural and Cultural Resources and the Office of Emergency Management. “At the state level, we must also consider how economic incentives, business recruitment and retention, economic development, and infrastructure decisions either improve or disadvantage communities,” said Secretary Regan. “Together, we should have a standard analysis and decision-making process for how proposed projects could disproportionately impact communities of color.”
The subcommittee has also proposed utilizing existing training and incentive programs to create jobs initiatives in disadvantaged communities geared toward remediation and resiliency work on public and low-income buildings in those communities, with a specific focus on public schools within the demonstration sites of Robeson and Edgecombe counties. “The Task Force created a propitious opportunity to recommend policy changes as well as strategies, tactics, and programmatic initiatives to address pressing environmental justice issues in our state, such as the sick building problem in our public schools that affects children of color disproportionately,” said Dr. Johnson. “More than that, in the process, we can create a pathway to greater shared prosperity and economic justice by intentionally connecting historically disadvantaged citizens to business and job opportunities aimed at addressing environmental and public health equity issues in our state.”
The recommendations include support to fund the effort to remediate the environmental issues in public school buildings through legislative or other actions, and expanding the inventory and remediation process beyond public schools to include other types of infrastructure, such as housing, courthouses, and other public buildings in environmental justice communities. The subcommittee also recommends supporting a legislative strategy for changes to create a standard environmental justice review process for state projects as a long term goal for the Task Force.
In addition to policy recommendations, the biannual report includes subcommittee goals, accomplishments and plans for the upcoming 2021 year. A digital copy of the biannual report is available on the Andrea Harris Task Force website along with a fact sheet providing an overview of the Task Force’s 2020 policy recommendations.