Pennsylvania Steps Up Its Environmental Justice Efforts

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Pennsylvania — one of the earliest states to adopt an Environmental Rights Amendment to its constitution, in 1971 — has recently taken steps to expand its longstanding commitment to environmental justice (EJ).

On October 28, Governor Tom Wolf issued Executive Order 2021-07, which formalizes existing Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PADEP) EJ efforts. Executive Order 2021-07 permanently establishes PADEP’s Office of Environmental Justice, which has been striving to ensure the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people in PADEP’s activities since 2015, when PADEP’s Office of the Environmental Advocate was reconstituted to focus more heavily on EJ. The Executive Order also formally establishes the already existing Environmental Justice Advisory Board and creates an Environmental Justice Interagency Council.

At the same time, pending in the Pennsylvania legislature are companion bills (H.B. 2034S.B. 189) which would codify the Office of Environmental Justice and the Environmental Justice Advisory Board, preventing these entities from being unilaterally disbanded in a future administration.

These actions occur in the context of PADEP’s ongoing efforts to revise its existing EJ Public Participation Policy, which dates back to 2004. PADEP withdrew its 2018 draft revisions to the policy after receiving criticism that the draft focused only on public engagement in the permitting process, and is currently working on a draft that would expand public engagement in a broader set of agency activities. The public comment period for the revised policy is expected to occur this winter, and the final policy is scheduled to be published next summer year. Stakeholders should be prepared to evaluate and comment on the revised policy once it is released.

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