Audit suggests pollution from Boeing Field may disproportionately impact BIPOC communities

Auditors found the airport lacks a clear strategy to achieve its goal of becoming a “green airport.”

An audit released on Dec. 12 by the King County Auditor’s Office found that while the county has set lofty goals on improving equity, fighting climate change, and doing both hand in hand with the communities it impacts, the King County International Airport (KCIA), also known as Boeing Field, could do more to help the county reach those goals.

While communities around the airport are largely Black, Indigenous and People of Color, auditors said KCIA has not documented goals and strategies to address environmental impacts on those communities.

Though the airport has taken steps to gather community input, airport leaders haven’t adopted a formal strategy to incorporate that input into its processes, leaving community members feeling frustrated, the audit found.

“King County International Airport is a vital economic asset for the region, but its surrounding communities are some of the most environmentally burdened in King County,” said Kymber Waltmunson, King County Auditor. “By adopting a thoughtful strategic plan, KCIA could amplify its efforts to mitigate its environmental impacts and advance sustainability and equity.”

The audit was presented on Dec. 12 to the King County Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

Auditors did acknowledge recent steps by KCIA to include equity and environmental efforts into its work, including pursuing accreditation certification through the Airport Carbon Accreditation program with a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030, and hiring a community liaison in 2022.

But broadly, auditors found that KCIA lacks a clear strategy to achieve its goal of becoming a world class green airport. Nor has it demonstrated how its efforts align with larger county goals like the King County Strategic Climate Action Plan and the Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan.

Though auditors say KCIA is hardly the only environmental concern in the area, as flights to and from nearby Sea-Tac Airport contribute, as well as industry up and down the Duwamish Waterway, its 180,000 flights per year and its ground operations pose significant noise and pollution risk to communities made up largely of historically marginalized people.

To turn things around, auditors recommended that KCIA develop and implement a new strategic plan that includes goals, objectives, strategies, and performance measures that align with county environmental and equity commitments.

“KCIA should also have better plans to communicate those strategies to the surrounding community to increase transparency. Additionally, KCIA should establish a clear and formalized plan to incorporate community input - already coming through its Roundtable - into airport planning and operations,” the King County Auditor’s Office said in a statement.

The full report can be found here.