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AGO Environmental Justice Brief

“COVID-19’s Unequal Effects in Massachusetts" outlines environmental factors that compound the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color in Massachusetts, and outlines steps the state should take to address the longstanding impact of environmental injustice on families, including investing in clean energy jobs, strengthening regulatory procedures to protect vulnerable communities, and fighting rollbacks of federal environmental protection laws.

Table of Contents

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Supportive Statements

Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston

“In Boston, we recognize the current public health crisis has disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable populations. There is a true intersection between environmental pollution and public health inequities that exist within our community, and that's why it's important that our collective recovery needs to be guided by both the best possible science and public health data, with equity at its core. Through the City of Boston's Health Inequities Task Force, we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure our recovery is guided by that framework to move us forward.” 

Thomas G. Ambrosino, Chelsea City Manager

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the gross inequities and health disparities that exist in environmental justice communities. I'm hopeful that this important report by the Attorney General will raise awareness of these harsh truths, and that lawmakers will take heed of her thoughtful recommendations to build a more equitable Commonwealth.”

Dr. Yvonne M. Spicer, Mayor of Framingham

“Approximately 30 percent of the 70,000 residents in Framingham identify as people of color. In Framingham, environmental injustice, especially in our most underserved neighborhoods, has been a target of my administration. Consistent with Massachusetts data, people of color living below the poverty line in my community are more likely to experience inadequate healthcare, housing, and economic opportunities. Until we address these inequities and lay out a clear path forward, I fear that the most vulnerable will continue to be left behind.”

Thomas M. McGee, Mayor of Lynn

“The impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color are alarming, but unfortunately not surprising. I am proud to stand with the Attorney General in her efforts to shed needed light on these disparities and strongly advocate for the action needed to achieve justice for those who are all too often without it.”

Jon Mitchell, Mayor of New Bedford and President of the Massachusetts Mayors Association

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, it is becoming clearer by the day that minority communities are suffering disproportionately.  I salute Attorney General Healey’s effort to shine a light on a problem long in the making, and her willingness to start the discussion now about how Massachusetts can emerge from the current crisis a stronger, healthier, and more equitable Commonwealth.”

Brian Howard, Town Manager of Randolph

“Environmental Justice communities like Randolph have been working for years to rectify these disparities, in ways both big and small. In addition to ongoing daily efforts by our public health officials to combat asthma and other similar conditions that can be aggravated by the local environment, Randolph has fought a decade-long battle against the siting of a 1,000 ton-per-day municipal solid waste facility and trash transfer station on the Randolph/Holbrook Town line. Much of the site formerly was occupied by Holbrook Chemical Company and is regulated by the Commonwealth as a disposal site pursuant to Chapter 21E. The southerly 2.1-acres of the site also overlap with the notorious Baird-McGuire Superfund Site, which is undergoing remediation under the supervision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Town has maintained that contaminated property near an Environmental Justice community is not a proper location for this type of use. However, the project proponents continue to push forward. The matter is currently in the hands of the Courts.”    

Brian Arrigo, Mayor of Revere

As mayors, our job is to protect the health and safety of all our residents. This pandemic has made painfully clear the disproportionate health impacts experienced by communities of color across Massachusetts  and in particular the essential workers who have continued to serve us all throughout this crisis. As we look toward recovery, we must prioritize climate solutions on behalf of those who will suffer the consequences of inaction the most. The City of Revere stands ready to join our state and local partners in fighting for stricter air pollution standards, protecting our neighborhoods and coastline from the impacts of climate change, and reimagining the green economy of the future.”

Joseph Petty, Mayor of Worcester

“I want to thank Attorney General Maura Healy for drawing attention to the health divide that the coronavirus pandemic has amplified. Nationwide, we know preexisting conditions like obesity, hypertension, and pulmonary issues disproportionately impact people of color. All of these preventable and treatable medical conditions lead to increased complications and severity when interacting with COVID-19. We know that environmental factors play heavily into the health of our residents. Locally we’ve been working with UMass Memorial Healthcare public health professionals and our inspectional services teams to improve the environment within the home. As we confront the housing shortage across the Commonwealth, it’s important that we continue to invest in our existing housing stock that in many cases is over one hundred years old in our Gateway Cities.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren

“Our country is facing a public health crisis unlike anything in our lifetime – and it is hitting communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income communities, and tribal nations especially hard, in large part because of government-sponsored discrimination and systemic racism. As reports like Attorney General Healey’s continue to highlight stark racial and other demographic disparities in COVID-19 cases and fatalities, we must continue to fight for environmental justice so that our most vulnerable communities—in Massachusetts and across the country—no longer have to suffer.”

Senator Ed Markey

“We must acknowledge the role that environmental injustice plays in this global pandemic. Research links higher levels of air pollution to higher rates of infection from the coronavirus, leaving communities of color and poor communities – which are more likely to be exposed to polluted air – more at risk. Massachusetts communities like Chelsea, East Boston, and Brockton are so severely impacted by coronavirus precisely because of their continued exposure to pollution. Black Americans and other communities of color have been historically marginalized and left out of broad-scale economic solutions to climate change. We can use the findings from this report to help right that historic wrong and ensure that we have a more just and equitable future for all communities in Massachusetts. I thank Attorney General Healey for her continued leadership on confronting this generational challenge.”

Congresswoman Katherine Clark

“The health of our planet is directly related to the health of our communities, and tragically, this virus has pulled back the curtain on persistent environmental, economic and racial injustices in our state and across the country. I’m grateful Attorney General Healey has put together these vitally important steps on how we can work together to save lives and improve our collective health that will help us deconstruct the systems that allow these inequities to persist. The time for action is now.”

Congressman Joe Kennedy

“COVID-19 didn’t target Black, Latinx and immigrant communities, our policies did. In order to overcome the decisions that intentionally left those neighborhoods uniquely vulnerable to a global health pandemic, we have to be just as intentional with our policies to overcome those inequities. Under Attorney General Healey’s leadership, we can begin that process in our Commonwealth while I continue to fight for true environmental justice in Washington.”

Congressman Jim McGovern

“Years of environmental injustice have been made visible by the awful and unequal toll the coronavirus is taking on communities of color. This is about more than just air pollution — it’s about decades of political choices that have concentrated busy highways, dirty power plants, and dangerous factories in some of the most vulnerable and medically underserved neighborhoods in our country. I stand with Attorney General Maura Healey in calling for stronger environmental justice protections, increased investments in clean energy, and an end to the Trump Administration’s dangerous attempts to dismantle air quality standards.”

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

“Now, more than ever, we must reaffirm the intersection between climate change and public health disparities plaguing communities across the Commonwealth and our country. Climate change and global warming are threatening all aspects of our society and increasing the risk to public health, particularly for vulnerable communities in my district. These communities, heavily concentrated with air pollutants from highways and industrial facilities, are finding themselves on the frontlines of both the COVID-19 and climate crisis. I am grateful for the partnership of Attorney General Healey as we legislate urgently to invest in a recovery that centers equity, justice, and the people.”

Congresswoman Lori Trahan

“It’s no coincidence that COVID-19 has been especially detrimental to many of the same vulnerable communities of color already disproportionately affected by decades of climate change and environmental injustice. I’m grateful to Attorney General Healey for her continued efforts to shine a light on this institutional inequality that has gone unaddressed for generations. For us to make the fundamental changes necessary to fix disparities and treat everyone fairly and equally, we must confront the data and set a new vision for the future.”

State Representative Carlos González, Chairman, Black and Latino Caucus

“I commend Attorney General Healey for prioritizing the communities that were impacted first and the hardest by COVID-19. We must take bold steps and provide direct economic investments to address the environmental policies which disproportionately impact lower income communities. We look forward to address effective strategies and work together to help stop the long-standing health disparities and the cycle of poverty which has existed in the black and brown community.”

State Senator Jo Comerford, Senate Chair, Joint Committee on Public Health

“The data compiled by Attorney General Healey and analyzed by the Boston University School of Public Health not only lays bare a stark picture of racial inequity, exposed and intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, it offers the Legislature a must-follow roadmap for immediate action.”

Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Interim Director at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital

“While the need to improve the welfare of those less fortunate in our societies has always been a moral imperative, Covid has given us new cause to act. In Massachusetts, and everywhere in the world, the pandemic has made painfully clear that we have allowed preventable health and economic disparities fester and that to protect our own health we must protect everyone's health. Now is the time to take bold steps to clean our air and build healthier, more sustainable communities throughout the Commonwealth. In doing so, we can bolster our resiliency to a host of looming threats, including pandemics and climate change, and we can make ourselves, and especially the most vulnerable among us, including and our children, healthier today.”

Brad Campbell, President of Conservation Law Foundation
“The Attorney General’s report makes clear that Chelsea and Everett are hit first and worst by COVID-19 and climate disruption because of decades of choices embedded in law and policy. Redlining by lenders decades ago and today’s standard-setting, siting, and enforcement practices for pollution have been lethal and unjust for low-income and minority communities, and this report is an overdue call for sweeping change.”

Karen Y. Chen, Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association

“Just like other communities of colors, Chinatown is surrounded by highways and luxury towers and is one of the most densely populated communities. Whether it's fine particulate matter or ultra fine particulate matter, Chinatown is one of the most polluted communities in the Northeast. With incomplete data, 15 percent of Boston's deaths due to COVID-19 were Asian American. If we put equity in the center of re-opening and recovery, we have to improve public transit and make it affordable to working people. Energy has to be affordable and community owned. That's why we are fighting for low-income fare and a community-owned micro grid.”

Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon’s Director of Public Policy and Government Relations

“The White House rollbacks of environmental and public health standards, especially those loosening air quality standards, seems especially cruel as the coronavirus is a respiratory illness. Those most vulnerable, as the brief shows, live in environmental justice communities where contaminated air, land and water already place residents at risk. I know this first hand, having been born and raised in the most impacted community of Chelsea.”

Larry Chretien, Executive Director of the Green Energy Consumers Alliance

“We need to speed the transition away from fossil fuels. Green Energy Consumers sees a number of ways to do that and we can do it in a way that provides significant benefits to communities who have been historically hurt the most by dirty energy. Wind, solar, electric cars, trucks, and buses, efficient homes, and more.”

Chris Dempsey, Director of Transportation for Massachusetts

“Transportation is the largest source of air pollution in Massachusetts, and research shows that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these tailpipe emissions. COVID-19 has revealed these existing inequities. We can clean up the air that we all breathe with smarter policies such as the ones outlined in this issue brief, including bus rapid transit and electrifying rail and vehicles. These policies will also help our economic recovery and expand access to job opportunities.”

Dr. Francesca Dominici, Professor of Biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Co-Director of the Data Science Initiative at Harvard University

“In our previous study of 60 million Medicare enrollees (Di et al 2017, NEJM), we found that Black Americans had a risk of all cause mortality associated with long term exposure to PM2.5 that is three times higher than the national average. This is simply unacceptable. This well-vetted peer-reviewed analysis, together with the emerging data on racial differences in COVID-19 deaths, and our preliminary results on an association between long term exposure to PM and COVID-19 death rates send a clear message: the right to breathe clean air, to live a healthy life, and to be protected from climate change and natural disasters, should depend neither on your race nor on your socioeconomic status.”

Deborah Donovan, Massachusetts Director & Senior Policy Advocate, Acadia Center

“Generations of destructive and exploitive energy policies have left low-income communities and communities of color especially exposed in the face of this pandemic. As we begin to recover, we must look to healthy sustainable alternatives. The study released today demonstrates the imperative need to shift to renewable energy. Such a shift will support the local and regional economy, meaningfully lower greenhouse gas emissions, and cut the deadly pollutants that leave residents of Chelsea and other communities in Massachusetts at greater risk from both everyday respiratory ailments and pandemics. Advocates, consumers, states, communities, and the energy sector must join together to reimagine our approach to energy production in a more just and equitable future.”

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights (which recently launched a Race and Climate Justice Project)

“Pollution is segregated, too. This is among the important findings highlighted by the Attorney General’s latest environmental and racial justice exposé. We applaud the Attorney General’s Office for tackling disparities across intersecting lines of race, pollution, and COVID-19. Environmental factors play a role in COVID-19 illness, infection, and death. To address it, we must deliberately and intentionally address and engage issues surrounding race, class, and our environment.”

Dr. Daniel Faber, Director of Northeastern University’s Environmental Justice Research Collaborative

 “That the most severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 epidemic are in low-income communities of color is no accident. Air pollution greatly magnifies the health impacts of the virus. And in Massachusetts, low-income communities like Chelsea face a cumulative burden of environmental hazards that is over twenty times greater than in white communities. In fact, the racial composition of a town is the most powerful predictor of the frequency of toxic waste sites, polluting industries, and environmental health-related problems in the Boston area and the Commonwealth.”

Charlie Harak, Managing Attorney at National Consumer Law Center

“Attorney General Maura Healey unquestionably demonstrates that communities of color in Massachusetts are being disproportionately impacted by this often deadly coronavirus. This report provides solid scientific research on how policy decisions around the location of polluting factories and highways, as well as the concentration of low-wage jobs that force people to continue traveling to work, make people of color more likely to get COVID-19 and suffer more serious health consequences. It should be a wake-up call for what we need to do to protect all of the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

David J. Hayes, Executive Director of NYU’s Energy & Environmental Impact Center

“Attorney General Maura Healey is shining a light on the uncomfortable reality that communities of color that have suffered from environmental injustice are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and climate change impacts. Thankfully, AG Healey is helping lead state attorneys general in a national fight against rollbacks of essential environmental and health protections, while focusing at home on strengthening environmental justice and an accelerated transition to a clean energy economy.”

Philip Giffee, Executive Director, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, Inc.

“If there is any silver lining amidst this devastating pandemic which affects so many of our neighbors and friends in the City, it is our need to think clearly and pro-actively about job creation and environmental opportunities that will benefit the most afflicted people as we begin to move forward even as COVID-19 stalks our communities. Job formation and stricter enforcement of environmental rules, regulations and programs are what Attorney General Maura Healey’s aims to do in her effort to remedy the risks in inner city living for low income and people of color. Let’s call her work ‘Green lining’. I am delighted she is aggressively willing to promote these causes. To me, this also makes her a leader in the climate change, health disparities and environmental justice movements. It is one thing to outline the disparities, as she does in collaboration with the BU School of Public Health, she is also proposing remedies, much needed practical, immediate and long-term remedies which will benefit the most vulnerable among us. Along with good science and facts, we desperately need strong leadership. I congratulate the Attorney General for her leadership on these critical life and death issues.”

Ken Kimmell, President of Union of Concerned Scientists

“Attorney General Healey’s brief highlights a harsh truth of COVID-19 — it is hitting hardest our most vulnerable communities — those who are least likely to be able to effectively protect themselves, or get the medical care they need if they contract the virus. As we stem the onslaught of this virus and rebuild our society, we need to reform the conditions that have led to this unconscionable, disproportionate impact. This brief is a compelling roadmap for this endeavor.”

Amy Longworth, Director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission

“Attorney General Healey’s position statement makes the key point that many public health and climate problems have common solutions in the form of clean energy, green jobs, strong environmental regulations, and protection of environmental justice communities. Such initiatives are elements of a much-needed actionable climate equity strategy for Massachusetts. The correlation between environmental degradation and COVID-19 is clear, as researchers at Boston University (a Green Ribbon Commission member) have statistically demonstrated using data from the Commonwealth. People who live in communities that are more dense, less green, more polluted, lower-lying, and closer to industrial infrastructure are more prone to becoming severely ill from pandemics.  The Carbon Free Boston Social Equity report and others have shown that the same populations are also more vulnerable to climate impacts, like heat, flooding, and pollution. We should seek ways to solve these challenges together.”

Dr. Mark Melnik, Director of Economic and Public Policy Research at the UMass Donahue Institute

“Crises like the current one tend to shine a spotlight on existing inequalities. It is heartening to see researchers and public policy makers around the region examining and highlighting these issues and what they mean for at-risk communities in the Commonwealth.”

Eva Millona, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition

The COVID-19 crisis has to be a wake-up call for policy-makers, philanthropy and business alike. As this brief starkly lays out, the devastation we’re seeing among immigrants and communities of color is part of a much-larger pattern of injustice and neglect. Not only do we have a long history of concentrating high-pollution activities near working-class neighborhoods, but the past three decades’ economic growth has further marginalized the poor and pushed them into outright unsafe living situations. We must start to right this wrong immediately.”

Claire Müller, Lead Community Organizer and Climate Justice Director, Toxics Action Center

“These recommendations are so important for our health. Let us heal with environmental justice and good local green jobs. It was urgent before, and it's even more urgent now. We can't go back to normal, we must go to a new, healthier version of Massachusetts.”

Deb Pasternak, Director of Sierra Club’s Massachusetts Chapter

“Attorney General Maura Healey understands that the communities most vulnerable to the pandemic are those which have historically suffered our greatest environmental, racial and economic injustices - those bearing the brunt of our dirty energy economy. The stark reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is that living in an environmental justice community is a precondition for catching the disease and dying from its complications. The Sierra Club applauds Maura Healey for using her office to shed light on these injustices and proposing solutions to begin providing our most vulnerable neighbors with the environmental protections they deserve. All Massachusetts residents have a right to clean water, land and air.”

Tanisha M. Sullivan, President of the NAACP Boston Branch

“The lack of intentional focus on systemic environmental inequities has resulted in an exacerbated impact on vulnerable low-income communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our environmental and climate resilience work must put people and justice at the core. These recommendations will help move us more intentionally in the right direction with people and justice at the core.”

Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, President, Environmental League of Massachusetts

“Boston University School of Public Health’s analysis of the data compiled by the Massachusetts Attorney General highlights how race isn’t just correlated with higher levels of COVID-19    race is predictive of higher rates of infection and mortality from COVID-19. This is a deep shame. Legacies of underinvestment, pollution and lack of access to health create lethal combinations in communities of color. It is time to pass meaningful Environmental Justice protections. The Commonwealth must do so this session. We also must put racial equity at the center of our state’s economic recovery strategy. Building clean energy, climate resilient infrastructure, safe and accessible transit, and healthy communities are among the best ways to get communities of color back to work – and back to health.”

Gladys Vega, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative

“We are battling a war on all fronts in Chelsea right now. We are desperate and suffering – our residents are dying at an unprecedented rate. What we are seeing right now on the ground is the result of a long history of environmental injustice and neglect of care for communities of color. Our voices have been lost in the background for far too long. AG Healey’s brief and recommendations should serve as a wakeup call to everyone that we must act to right these wrongs and protect our environment and our families.”

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Pastor of New Roots AME Church and Green Justice Coalition Fellow

“Millions have been impacted by the COVID crisis, but this report clarifies how the devastation has been greatest in our most vulnerable communities. Previous policies have not done enough to protect some of our citizens and many have paid with their lives. As we turn to the recovery process, our task is not to go back to what we were before, but to take the AG’s policy recommendations as a way to prioritize those communities that have been ravaged by COVID-19 and make them strong enough to withstand future crises.”

Kelsey Wirth, Co-Founder and Chair, Mothers Out Front

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities in our communities and widened the social and economic inequities that already existed. We must recognize that these same injustices are also drivers of climate change. As mothers, we want to see the kind of resilience and innovation that moms everywhere are applying to their family’s lives right now brought to bear on a new green and clean economy. We cannot afford to go back to business as usual, letting the fossil fuel industry continue to profit at the expense of our kids’ health and to poison our communities while draining our natural resources. We must seize this moment to fight together for solutions to this economic and environmental oppression.”

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