Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s Focuses on Equity and Racial Justice

Nicole Hirao, Guest Writer

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (CAA) is a regional government agency that focuses on public health and the environment. However, they stand out because of their focus on equity and engagement by extending their efforts to include climate justice and community outreach programs.

The CAA is responsible for monitoring the air quality and environment of the Puget Sound region, which includes King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish County. One of the CAA’s listed priorities is their commitment to community, equity, and access. As an agency, they recognize that climate justice is social justice and that no groups of people in the community should “bear disproportionate burdens and exposure from air pollution” (pscleanair.gov).

With the recent wildfires, the CAA decided to help communities deal with the hazardous air quality from the smoke. The agency helped to distribute fans with furnace filters, which help filter the small particles from wildfire smoke out of people’s homes. To make this happen, the CAA worked with these focus communities and county health departments to distribute the filter fans. The agency distributed roughly 650 filter fans to focus communities in the Puget Sound area, including the Chinatown international district, Duwamish Valley, Auburn-Algona-Pacific, and Lakewood.

The CAA’s focus communities are ones that are more heavily influenced by air pollution, which also tends to be communities with increased socioeconomic challenges. To prevent disenfranchised communities from being disproportionately affected, the agency focuses on these areas to make sure that clean air is possible for everyone.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the CAA issued a statement on their website about their commitment to racial justice. While this statement was posted after the death of Floyd, it was not the start of their commitment to racial justice. Instead, it was the board’s way of taking it a step further than it had previously and declaring that racism is a public health threat.

Joel Creswell, an air resource specialist at the Clean Air Agency recognizes exactly that. “We have long acknowledged that environmental exposures are not equal. There are a lot of people, through no fault of their own, have much higher exposure to pollution than others,” said Creswell.

One of the ways that the CAA attempts to bridge the gap in focus communities is through its outreach programs. The agency uses its programs to focus on building relationships within communities and getting information to the people who live there. They do this by integrating their outreach and intervention efforts with things already going on in the community.

The city of Lakewood put together an event with various community and social services. They provided COVID-19 testing, had rent assistance programs available and food banks, and supplied masks while the CAA attended and provided community members with filter fans. Creswell noted that the Lakewood community collaborative was a perfect example of an effective partnership that came out of the agency’s community efforts.

While the CAA has done a lot, Creswell acknowledges that they still have a long way to go. The Puget Sound region accounts for about half the population of Washington, but they had only distributed about 650 filter fans at the beginning of the fire season. That was a decision that had to be made relatively quickly due to the COVID-19 situation but it had still come together well.

Their commitment to justice doesn’t stop in with outreach. The CAA focuses on staff training and development, including workshops on environmental justice. Their goal as an agency is equity and engagement and they want to ensure that it is a priority for everyone. Creswell said that the future of the CAA should have more of a focus on justice so the agency looks more like the community they serve.

The CAA acknowledges that environmental justice is closely related to social justice. Different areas are impacted differently by environmental pressures. Therefore they are working within these communities to attempt to bridge these gaps.

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