AG Ferguson Rolls Out Environmental Justice Initiative in Honor of Earth Day
Press release from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General
OLYMPIA — In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Attorney General Bob Ferguson today launched a new environmental justice initiative. As part of the initiative, Ferguson announced that he will partner with Gonzaga University to hold an environmental justice symposium next year. Ferguson’s goal is to strengthen environmental policies and enforcement with meaningful involvement from the people affected most by environmental issues like climate change and pollution.
Ferguson created the Counsel for Environmental Protection Unit in his office in 2016. As part of his Earth Day 2020 announcement, Ferguson elevated the unit to a permanent legal division in his office. The Environmental Protection Division will continue to protect Washingtonians and our environmental by bringing affirmative civil and criminal litigation on behalf of Washingtonians.
Moreover, Ferguson also launched a web page tracking his office’s internal efforts to reduce its environmental impact, including waste reduction, increased remote work capabilities and flexible work schedules.
More than half of Ferguson’s lawsuits against the Trump Administration involve environmental protection. Ferguson is 15-0 in these cases.
“Even before the current pandemic, our office adopted work-from-home policies that allowed us to reduce commute hours and emissions,” Ferguson said. “This put us in a position to transition quickly at the outset of the ongoing public health emergency. During this trying and unprecedented time, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day stands as a reminder that we must continue to do everything in our power to protect our shared environment.”
Environmental justice recognizes that some communities — particularly low-income, minority and indigenous communities — are disproportionally harmed by issues like pollution and climate change. For example, low-income housing is more likely to be located near sources of air and water pollution, like highways, landfills or hazardous waste sites. These disproportionately impacted communities must be meaningfully involved in creating environmental protections.
In order to facilitate dialogue that centers on disproportionately impacted communities, the Attorney General’s Office and Gonzaga University School of Law will host a symposium that brings together people impacted by environmental issues, environmental lawyers, scientists, advocates, policymakers and students. Attendees will examine the latest research and discuss ways to improve environmental protections. The event will take place near Earth Day 2021, with the exact date to be determined.
The Attorney General’s Office is also creating a fellowship position to give a rising law student an opportunity to develop their expertise in environmental justice, as well as research and develop policy and legal proposals. The office expects to begin the application process for the environmental justice fellowship in the fall.
New Environmental Protection Division
The Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division, previously known as the Counsel for Environmental Protection Unit, works to protect Washingtonians and the environment by bringing affirmative civil and criminal litigation on behalf of the state.
The Environmental Protection Division has worked on several major cases targeting activities that place human health and the environment at risk, including Navy ship scraping in Sinclair Inlet, Monsanto’s efforts to conceal the dangers of a toxic chemical and Hanford worker exposure to hazardous tank vapors.
Ferguson has made environmental protection a priority of his administration. Since 2013, he has brought environmental crimes prosecutions leading to over 30 criminal convictions and nearly $5 million in fines, penalties and restitution orders.
Reducing the Office of the Attorney General’s environmental impact
Over the last several years, the Attorney General’s Office has consistently increased its work-from-home capabilities, eliminating commutes and reducing the office’s carbon footprint. In 2011, the office provide approximately 10 percent of employees with laptops, enabling remote work. By the end of 2019, the office provided 85 percent of employees with laptops. That number continues to grow.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the office’s efforts to increase telecommuting have only accelerated. Not only does this reduce the agency’s emissions, it also ensures key operations can continue if employees can’t make it into the office — even during a crisis.
In the midst of a pandemic, telecommuting options have allowed the office’s environmental protection attorneys to continue their work, including fighting the Trump Administration’s environmental rollbacks.
In March, for example, assistant attorneys general submitted a public comment letter opposing the weakening of National Environmental Policy Act rules. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, environmental lawyer David Hayes wrote about the letter: “Working out of their homes, lawyers in the office of Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson helped lead a heroic effort, joined by 18 states and the District of Columbia, to produce and file a highly critical 77-page comment letter.”
Environmental Protection Division Chief Bill Sherman and Policy Director Sahar Fathi are leading the Attorney General’s Office Earth Day initiative.