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Pennsylvania Employs New Policies and Tools Related to Environmental Justice

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will adopt an Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy this month.

The policy, which expands upon the state’s existing policy from 2004, updates permitting procedures, qualifications of environmental justice areas, and several other policy revisions. The new policies are designed to work in concert to better identify Environmental Justice (EJ) areas, prevent new projects from negatively affecting these areas, and proactively engage potentially affected communities throughout the entire permitting process.

According to the interim policy, environmental justice is defined as the “just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of income, wealth, race, color, national origin, area of residence, Tribal affiliation, or disability, in agency decision-making and other activities that affect human health and the environment”. An Environmental Justice Area is defined as “a geographic area characterized by increased pollution burden, and sensitive or vulnerable populations based on demographic and environmental data”.

The existing EJ policy from 2004 considered just two criteria when making determinations on a community’s EJ standing: the percentage of the area’s population living below the poverty line and its racial demographics. Now, a new mapping tool developed by the state’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be used when making EJ area determinations. The new mapping tool, called PennEnviroScreen uses 32 pieces of data to inform state agencies on a community’s EJ standing. PennEnviroScreen will now be employed in all DEP processes when making permitting decisions.

Additionally, designations regarding public participation will now include Trigger Projects and Opt-In Projects. Trigger Projects, described as any type of project that “traditionally led to significant public concern due to potential impacts to the environment, human health, and communities,” will automatically require public participation opportunities. Opt-in projects are projects that the “DEP determines should be evaluated using this policy” to allow public participation due to community concerns and potential dangers.

The Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy will be implemented when it is published in the PA Bulletin on Sept. 16, according to Justin Dula, director of the DEP’s Environmental Justice Office. At the same time, a public comment period will begin which will extend until Oct. 29.

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