August 03, 2020
María Belén Power, of the local nonprofit GreenRoots, was supposed to have a “date night” with her husband Friday evening, but says she couldn’t stop checking her phone for updates on floor proceedings at the State House. The Massachusetts House of Representatives was working its way through more than 100 amendments attached to a sweeping climate bill known colloquially as the 2050 Roadmap.
“I was watching the session for hours and hours and hours before [that] — just waiting and waiting and waiting,” she says. Waiting, that is, for the legislators to take up an amendment proposed by East Boston Rep. Adrian Madaro that would codify a number of environmental justice (EJ) definitions and processes into Massachusetts law for the first time in the state’s history. (The text of the amendment was previously filed as a stand-alone bill, but when it became clear that it wouldn’t make it out of committee for a vote, Madaro proposed it as an amendment to the 2050 Roadmap bill, which had a greater chance of passing.)
Belén Power says she kept her phone by her side during dinner, and as soon as she got word that the amendment was up for debate, apologized to her husband and turned her full attention to the proceedings.
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First up was Rep. Madaro, who gave a seven-and-a-half minute speech about the importance of environment justice that ended in applause from his fellow lawmakers.
“Our planet is now facing a reckoning for decades of burning fossil fuels, but the burden of these fumes has been borne by EJ communities from the beginning,” he said, noting that East Boston — home to Logan Airport, major highways and huge tanks of jet fuel and heating oil — has a disproportionately high rate of childhood asthma and recently experienced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the state.
“For too long we have let low-income communities and communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of pollutants and environmental hazards, while excluding them from the decision-making process affecting their neighborhoods,” Madaro said. “And the provisions in this amendment are the first step in a long overdue process to ensure environmental equity and finally recognize environmental justice and EJ communities into state law.”
Watching on her phone, Belén Power — who helped craft the language used in the environmental justice amendment — says she was overwhelmed with emotion.
“It just felt so powerful and so exciting that this was happening,” she says. “This fight’s been going on for 20 years.”