Environmental Justice in Maryland

On August 18, 2020, the Assateague Coastal Trust sent a letter to Governor Hogan outlining the need for a renewed commitment to environmental justice in the state. This letter was co-signed by Dr. Sacoby Wilson, Director of the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health Lab, Wicomico Chapter of the NAACP, the Patuxent RIVERKEEPER, Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs, CATA, Sentinels of Eastern Shore Health (SESH), Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, and Chesapeake Legal Alliance.

These organizations called for three changes:

  • MDE needs an Environmental Justice Plan
  • Maryland’s Environmental Justice & Sustainability Commission needs to be re-chartered
  • The Governor’s Office must show greater commitment to addressing systemic racism and advancing environmental justice.

You can read the full letter here.

What can we learn from other states?

This summer, the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights worked with Chesapeake Legal Alliance legal intern, Gabe Almario, to research environmental justice commissions in other states as well as Maryland. What Gabe uncovered was a 2018 report prepared by the Virginia Advisory Council for Environmental Justice (ACEJ), a state level advisory body that provides recommendations for the Executive Branch in Virginia. ACEJ conducted the research to learn from other environmental justice advisory bodies and summarized the work of environmental justice commissions in eleven states.  

ACEJ identified six components of environmental justice commissions listed below.

  1. “EJ council helps shape state policy”;
  2. “EJ council helps administer funds to vulnerable communities”;
  3. “EJ council communicates directly with marginalized communities”;
  4. “State has an EJ grievance mechanism or ombudsman”;
  5. “EJ council disseminates information in events and publications”;
  6. “State uses environmental justice screening or mapping tools”

The following charts were created by Gabe Almario to 1) compare how the twelve states with environmental justice bodies performed in 2018 and 2) to provide an update in 2020 based on his online research. In 2018, advanced Environmental Justice Commissions used EJ screening tools, shaped state policy, and administered funds to vulnerable communities.

In 2020, the number of states with Environmental Justice Commissions increased from twelve to sixteen. In Gabe’s chart below, blue shading represents changes from 2018, and peach shading identifies the four states that created Environmental Justice Commissions.

Unfortunately, this analysis visually shows that Maryland’s Commission for Environmental Justice & Sustainability is falling behind other states in taking action to address environmental injustice. This research also reinforces the need for improvement outlined by the Assateague Land Trust in its’ August letter to the Governor of Maryland. For more information and insights on environmental justice commissions in other states, listen to Gabe’s webinar here.

The Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights [MDEHR] agrees with the Assateague Land Trust and their partners about the need for a more effective environmental justice commission in Maryland. MDEHR supports and looks forward to joining Assateague Land Trust and its partners’ future efforts to strengthen the scope of the Commission. MDEHR invites you to sign up for email updates here to be kept informed about future actions.