Pennsylvania updating Environmental Justice Policy, seeking feedback

Here's how you can help shape environmental policy in Pennsylvania.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Friday, April 22, 2022

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Across Pennsylvania, environmental concerns vary.

"In the northeast (part of the state), there's a lot of concern about abandoned mine reclamation," said Justin Dula, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Environmental Justice which operates under the state's Department of Environmental Protection. "That's different from the issues that communities in Philadelphia have around things like illegal dumping."

Environmental issues disproportionately impact people of color, who are more prone to live in areas of Pennsylvania that are affected by pollution.

It's the reason the state's Department of Environmental Protection classifies Environmental Justice (EJ) areas, which are determined by several factors including demographics. Most EJ areas are neighborhoods where at least 30% of residents are people of color, and at least 20% of them live at or below the federal poverty level.

In one EJ area of South Philadelphia, residents want an agreement with the company Hilco before it repurposes the former refinery site of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, which residents say brought harm to their neighborhoods. Residents want to see a cleanup and have input on what happens next.

"They (Hilco) advertised the fact that they were going to repurpose the entire refinery. We want to make sure that happens," said Earl Wilson, President of the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition.

Wilson was among dozens of people who protested Hilco on Thursday afternoon. Their protest comes as Pennsylvania updates its Environmental Justice Policy.

Part of it would equip residents with more information about the companies in their neighborhoods who take actions that could have an environmental impact; however, the policy is not the same as a change in environmental laws.

"A policy really only guides what DEP can do under existing statute and regulation. It can't create new laws or regulations," said Dula, adding that only state or federal legislation could do that.

Officials with the Office of Environmental Justice and the Department of Environmental Protection are seeking public input on the updates to the Environmental Justice policy. Public input will be accepted through May 11th. The proposed updated policy can be viewed at the state's website.

There are two more hearings scheduled on the policy. For information on those upcoming virtual hearings and documents to share with others, click here.

The new Environmental Justice policy will be implemented by late summer or early fall of 2022.