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Pennsylvania looks to better help communities with high pollution burdens, seeks public input

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The Department of Environmental Protection is rolling out new rules to better help communities with high exposure to pollution or environmental hazards.

Thenew policy will govern how the state approaches issues of environmental justice–which is the principle that all people have the right to be protected from environmental hazards and to live in a healthy environment, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.

Historically, EJ hasn’t been achieved in neighborhoods with a high percentage of minority or low-income people.

In listening sessions used to shape the draft policy, Director of the Office of Environmental Justice Justin Dula said he heard people frustrated that the current EJ policy only focused on public input during the permitting process for polluting businesses.

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He said they asked what the agency could do to help when a company violates its permit and how they could more directly see the benefits of the resulting fines.

The new guidelines add EJ considerations to inspections and enforcement.

“As part of enforcement, DEP will keep a list of community-identified projects that can be the site of direct investment when there is a violation,” Dula said, adding that will help communities benefit from fines levied on polluters.

Environmental justice communities can be found throughout Pennsylvania. The are in all its major cities and rural areas, such as a large swath of Clinton County, in the state’s northern tier.

The new policy allows for regular updates to the definition of an environmental justice area. It also requires an annual report and a strategic plan review every five years.

Permit applications for things that have traditionally led to significant concern because of potential impacts to the environment and human health, such as mining operations or landfills, would get special scrutiny in EJ areas. The policy also lays out steps for notifying people about oil and gas projects.

DEP would also consider equity principles and prioritize impacted areas when planning for climate change.

Rep. Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia) is sponsoring measures to put environmental justice policies into law. She said while people in her community may not use terms like “environmental justice” or “climate crisis,” they still see the related problems.

“Folks know what is happening to their communities, they understand what is happening to their health and their children’s health and whether or not they have the terms or the words to use it, they do want to see the change and they do want to make sure they have a place at the table to make that change happen,” Bullock said.

Three virtual public hearings are scheduled in April:

  • Tuesday, April 5, 2022, at 5 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 12, 2022, at 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 28, 2022, at 12 p.m.

Those who want to speak at a hearing must Glenda Davidson at least 24 hours in advance at 717-783-4759 or

Written comments can be submitted until May 11, using DEP’s eComment tool or by e-mail to They can also be mailed to the Technical Guidance Coordinator, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Policy Office, Rachel Carson State Office Building, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105-2063.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.