Roger Goodman

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Interviewee Affiliation

Washington State Legislature


Kasandra McAfee

Date of Interview


Document Type



This interviewee claims that environmental injustice occurs when poor, politically marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by pollution and other forms of ecological decline. He stresses topics of storm water runoff, air pollution, and waste disposal, asserting that affluent neighborhoods are suffering less than their indigent counterparts. As a remedy, he encourages more inclusive dialogue to establish equal representation through public hearings and other policy processes, so that all members of a community have an opportunity to be heard. He contends that the environment buoys human society, so it is important for us to be wise stewards of natural systems. The interviewee discusses global incidents of environmental injustice including biotechnology and corporate control of seeds, tying this into the local issue of I-522 which would mandate the labeling of genetically modified foods. Overall, he his approach to the topic is anthropocentric.


Roger Goodman: I am State Representative Roger Goodman from the Washington state legislature.

KM: What is environmental justice?

RG: Environmental Justice brings together our concerns over the environment with our concerns over equity in human relations, so that those who are of limited means, or limited political power, or are vulnerable, or are not popular culturally do not suffer more because of environmental degradation. Where pollution, or other environmental misdeeds might affect, for instance the poor, or minorities or others.

KM: How does or doesn’t environmental justice work in your community?

RG: My particular community is very affluent, and we also don’t have that many environmental issues because we have a lot of resources to keep our parks maintained and our sewer water systems up to date, but in general in Washington I am not sure to the extent to which environmental problems affect the poor and disadvantage more than others. I know that storm water systems – I know that sounds sort of boring – but it’s one of my principle concerns, because the population is growing so much that we are not accounting for the overflow into Puget Sound. It may be that those who are not able to live in an area which is perhaps more affluent are more adversely effected by storm water overflow and pollution of the water. And also I would think that in industrial areas where there is more air pollution and less desirable housing, people would be more affected by air pollution in those areas. And also waste disposal . . . there is probably less responsible disposal of waste in areas where it is cheaper to live, and yet the conditions are not as comfortable. But I do have to say that air pollution does not pay attention to what neighborhood one of the worst examples is coming up from . . . Tacoma Asarco plant many years ago was pumping out toxic metals which have precipitated all over Puget sound, and that really had not affected the poor any more than the wealthy. The soils of the playgrounds in my own affluent neighborhood have been affected by that heavy metal participation, so I have to be careful with my own children playing at the park, knowing that there is some toxicity in the soils even in my own neighborhood.

KM: What parts of environmental justice are important to you?

RG: Well the two most important principles to me, that guide my positions on all public policy are the environment, our life support system, and the dignity of the human being of whether we are being equitable and treating everyone alike and honoring the dignity of everyone alike. So this question brings those two principles together actually. We should be making sure that we are preserving clean water, clean air, and disposing of waste properly for everyone’s sake, and yet we might not be doing it in a way that protects everyone equally. So those people who are in poverty or who are in parts of vulnerable or unpopular groups in our society, and there is a big overlap there, might not be as protected from the threats of a polluted area water and improper waste disposal. So I am concerned about that, I want to see that we treat everyone alike, honor the dignity of everyone alike, and that means sufficient environmental protections everywhere not just the areas that can afford it.

KM: How does concern for the environment fit with other environmental justice concerns?

RG: Well our concern for the environment, as I have said is paramount without a life support system that’s healthy we can’t even afford to talk about other important issues like education, family welfare and so forth. So by paying proper attention to environmental protection I hope that we can ensure that in protecting the environment we account for all areas of our community not just taking care of those environmental concerns in areas where we can afford to, it might cost us a little but in the short run to protect communities that are of limited means and yet in the end it saves us.

KM: In your opinion, how is environmental justice useful to you in addressing the issues in your community?

RG: Well I can think of an example in my community where a sewage treatment plant was placed right next to a very sensitive critical area and also a large neighborhood. Now this neighborhood isn’t necessarily a poor neighborhood, but they didn’t have a say in the placement of this sewage treatment plant. And they also don’t even benefit from it because the sewage that comes to the plant comes from somewhere else and so there voice wasn’t really herd. And that concerned me. I guess, when considering environmental issues in my area I would want to make sure that the voices of those who live there are properly herd. And that means setting up public processes, hearings, and the ability for public comment and objection, and possible changes to whatever the plans may be. So I guess in general what I would like to see is when considering the issues of environmental protection is that the voice of the people is heard and I don’t think it is enough. It hasn’t been in my district. And a lot of people all of the sudden have to deal with some environmental issue that they had no control over and now have no voice in addressing because of the powers of be that don’t even live in their neighborhood whether it’s a corporation or its elected officials or have some other interest deicide for them and that’s not fair.

So I can distinguish that previous example with a much better one, where we were experiencing a pretty urgent matter of pollution, two rivers that actually converged in my area, and there was an outcry from the community that there was an urgent need for mitigating the environmental damage. This is actually a relatively poor community in my area and because I heard their voice and because it was urgent I was able to get funding for immediate action to construct a sewer system, a water supply system for that community that was previously depending on wells and septic systems that was polluting the river and endangering everyone’s health. But because I heard from them, it was democracy in action; I was able to take their voice and go to the legislature and get funding for the means to clean it up. So those are some of the comparison there. If I hear the voice of those affected I can do something about it but if the voice is suppressed or minimized then they are subject to the effects to which they have no control over and like I said that’s not fair.

KM: Is there anything else on this topic that you would like to say?

RG: Well, the notion of environmental justice is critically important, particularly as the world is approaching an environmental crisis. Because we are continuing to deplete resources and pollute the environment, we are losing the diversity of seeds for adequate food, we’re overfishing, and we’re depending way too much on petroleum. We’re headed for trouble, and the voice of the people isn’t being heard . . . the transnational corporations have no allegiance to any particular government or nation are too much calling the shots and you see this around the world. I guess this concerns I have are more global than it is in just within our own country. You see the effects of environmental degradation particularly in those most vulnerable communities around the world who are running out of seeds. Peasants for instance, just to be able to subsist because corporations have patented seeds and have literally taken them away from them. And then we see the effects of logging and runoff on again poor communities and villages around the world who are not able to stay where they live. The effects of huge hydroelectric projects where millions of people have to be displaced from their homes, where perhaps for many generations they had been living. The effects of air pollution in the crowded urban areas and in the developing world, affecting the health of families and children beyond their control. The whole idea of environmental justice is really important as we approach a major crisis in the next several years and it goes back to voices not being heard, and there not being enough democracy, or enough participation by those who are affected. It’s hard, it’s hard to struggle. You can sort of be on the green peace boat and lob something at the oil tanker and it makes the news, but in the end does it really make a difference. We need I think a more structural change in the way that decision are made to put more checks on the decisions by large corporations. One other example is fracking . . . we have heard about fracking and breaking up the rock below the ground to produce gas. In this country about 65% of the United States population is affected by this their water supply might be irreparably polluted if there is a leakage. And most of these are of limited means, in rural areas or in areas who don’t have as much a voice. So it really is a struggle, how can we find a voice, and make it heard make it meaningful to keep these potentially environmentally catastrophic moves in check. So it’s an ongoing concern, and it’s going to become more and more important . . . literally a matter of our survival. Some of us will be able to adapt better than others. But we are the ones that have the resources to do it and those who suffer and maybe even die because of greed and corporate interests, vested monied interests, are not really carrying of those who they harm because for them it’s about the bottom line and in the end that’s not just. And so this notion of environmental justice is really important.

KM: In light of recent events what is your opinion on initiative 522?

RG: So initiative 522 would have required labeling just giving consumers information about what is in their food. I strongly support that. There was a lot of misinformation by the food industry they spent 25 million dollars at least to kill the proposal. If something like this had passed they would have felt really threatened nationwide because it would have spread nationwide. So they were spending as much as they possibly could to scare people and misinform people. And also to send a message to anyone else in the country who wants to change the law in this way that they are going to spend just as much to try and kill it. So it unfortunate, this is an example of vested money interests, large powerful corporations who modify our food without giving us information about it. Wanting the ability to do that, and not to let us know about those details for the bottom line. So they’re economic interests comes before our interest in human health and the environment. It’s unfortunate the political system works out this way. But the people were fooled this time and unfortunately we were not able to put in place what I thought would be reasonable labeling and providing information to consumers about what they are eating and what they are feeding their children. For salmon in the waters around here to be 4x as large as a normal salmon sounds great to eat but what really is in that animal and I would like to know a little bit more about that before I as a consumer buy that and feed my kids that. So this is an ongoing struggle and I think the public is at least . . . awareness has been raised about the issue even though the initiative was not successful. Some progress was made in educating people about how maybe they should take a closer look at what they are buying at the store.

Additional Files

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