Health care’s trusted voice advances climate and environmental justice policy

  • US & Canada

Two years after its launch, the Washington Health Care Climate Alliance (WA Alliance) is proving how effective health system coalition advocacy is for supporting policies to protect patient and community health, especially communities that face disproportionate environmental hazards and threats. Washington is the third state where Health Care Without Harm has collaborated with leading health systems to establish a coalition model to weigh in on climate policy and regulations.

During the 2021 legislative session, the WA Alliance supported the following key bills, all of which passed the legislature and have been signed by Governor Jay Inslee:

  1. Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1091), which establishes a low-carbon fuel standard that will reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels while lowering their greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing air pollution. In what may be a national first, the CEO of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and the president of the Washington State Medical Association co-authored a piece jointly urging the passage of the bill to reduce the health impacts of fossil fuels used in vehicle transportation. The co-authored opinion piece was published and shared with target legislators prior to key votes on the Senate floor. 

    “Dirty transportation fuels release potent greenhouse gas emissions as well as huge amounts of air pollution and toxins, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and other harmful pollutants that are linked to asthma, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and cancers,” said Gary Kaplan, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s CEO.

  2. The Healthy Environments for All (HEAL) Act (SB 5141), which implements recommendations of the state Environmental Justice Task Force and incorporates environmental justice principles into state actions. The bill defines environmental justice in state law, requires agencies to apply specific environmental justice requirements to their activities (including community engagement plans), and establishes an Environmental Justice Council to advise the covered agencies.

  3. Health Equity Zones (SB 5052), which requires the Department of Health to review health and population data to identify, or allow communities to self-identify, potential health equity zones in the state and develop projects to meet the unique needs of each zone. 

    “It is crucial to understand and address health disparities now before the projected climate change impacts exacerbate these inequities to a much more extreme level,” said Robyn Rothman, who leads the WA Alliance and is Health Care Without Harm’s associate director of state policy programs.

Finally, on the regulatory side, the WA Alliance and its energy and facility leads that comprise its technical committee were heavily involved in the rulemaking of the state’s groundbreaking energy efficiency performance standards law. Their health care voice and experience played a significant role as building owners who support creating decarbonization policies while also ensuring the unique energy needs and requirements of health care facilities are addressed.