In 2001, a workgroup convened by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) produced an Environmental Justice Work Group Report (EJWG) recommending the development of an Environmental Justice Advisory Board and an office within DEP to address environmental justice (EJ) issues. What is now called the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) was created in 2002, and in 2004 a Public Participation Policy was developed with the intent of providing enhanced public participation to certain communities when select major permit applications are submitted to the department.
When Governor Tom Wolf’s administration began in 2015, the OEJ was vacant. In late 2015, a Director for the OEJ was appointed by the administration, and the DEP began an intensive review of its current outreach to EJ communities, EJ policies, and current practices as it related to environmental justice. As a result of this review, the OEJ began to plan a nine-stop statewide listening tour to evaluate the state of EJ across the commonwealth and to determine what changes, if any, needed to be made to the current EJ program.
The OEJ developed a list of questions to help guide testimony given at the listening sessions. Questions solicited input on the existing definition of EJ and what parameters constitute an EJ community, how DEP can improve community outreach and engagement, and access to information, among other topics. Testimony submitted by mail and email also counted as public comment and was attributed to the listening tour.
Beginning in July 2017, the OEJ reconvened an internal workgroup to evaluate the comments received from the listening tour and to develop an action plan regarding topics and issues raised throughout the listening tour testimony.
Results to Date:
- Three hundred and fourteen comments received from 147 individuals and organizations across the state have been categorized and will result in the reevaluation of Department policies and procedures.
- An EJ Viewer GIS tool has been developed and will incorporate suggestions received during the listening tour. This tool will allow the public to easily view EJ areas, permitted activity, demographics, and health data obtained from DEP and other state departments.
Carl E. Jones, Jr.
Director, Office of Environmental Justice
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection