This post was originally published on The Washington Informer

With 17 days left in the Maryland General Assembly, activists are demanding lawmakers pass legislation that not only combats climate change, but also protect underserved communities.

“We are here to represent the community that would face the devastation of our own hesitation to deal with the problem of climate change,” Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said Friday at Lawyers’ Mall in Annapolis. “We are here to say climate change is real. It is here as we speak and impacting our communities.”

Three bills passed in the House and Senate include:

  • Environmental justice screening: Requires any person applying for a permit on a project to receive an environmental justice score evaluation pollution exposure and effects, sensitive populations and socioeconomic factors.
  • Energy Efficiency: Provide low-income households with resources to reduce energy consumption and utility savings.
  • Transit equity: Requires any new state transit projects must include a transit equity analysis and conduct outreach with minority and low-income communities, disabled and senior commuters and residents with limited English-proficiency.

Dr. Sacoby Wilson, a public health professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, said environmental justice must be integrated in all policies.

For example, he said Baltimore City has the most heat-related morbidity deaths than any other city in Maryland because of impervious surfaces. He stressed trees help with stormwater management, mental health and property values.

“You can’t have a healthy neighborhood without trees, folks,” he said. “How are you going to put America first if you don’t put your kids first?”

Before the Senate approved the transit bill Friday sponsored by Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City), she encouraged supporters to not stop fighting. That bill and the others must be reviewed and approved in the opposite chamber before the 90-day legislative session ends April 11.

“We have a beginning, but we have much further to go and we’re not going to stop until we have transit equity,” she said. “Let me end with my favorite line of the day: end transit apartheid.”

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