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Pa. officials seek environmental justice concerns to shape climate planning

A factory building next to a hillside
Gene J. Puskar
Part of the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works is shown on Thursday, May 2, 2019 in Clairton, Pa.

State officials are touring Pennsylvania to hear environmental justice concerns.

Shapiro administration representatives plan to make seven stops across the state this month to look for the most effective ways to help environmental justice areas be resilient to the effects of climate disruption.

People can attend the events in person or virtually and share their opinions through online surveys.

The Department of Environmental Protection plans to use the feedback in a new guide for addressing climate in EJ areas.

“DEP is committed to expanding proactive outreach to better understand communities’ concerns,” said DEP Acting Secretary Rich Negrin. “We’ll draw on this understanding as we develop and implement statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies and fund programs that ensure Environmental Justice communities are centered in climate change mitigation and adaptation statewide.”

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About 4 million Pennsylvanians live in EJ areas, which are defined as any census tract where at least 20 percent of people live at or below the federal poverty line or at least 30 percent identify as a non-white minority.

People there are often challenged by poor air quality, old housing and infrastructure and limited transportation as a result of a history of disinvestment.

Pennsylvania doesn’t have any special regulations for permitting polluting industries in these areas. Last year, DEP released a new draft policy for how to approach EJ issues. It included adding EJ considerations to the agency’s inspections and enforcement work and allowed for updates to the definition of environmental justice.

The first three EJ discussions were held in Meadville, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Four more are scheduled throughout the month:

  • April 11, 10:30 a.m. at the Berks Nature Center in Reading 
  • April 13, 10:30 a.m. at the Camp Curtin YMCA in Harrisburg 
  • April 14, 10:30 a.m. at the DEP Southeast Regional Office in Norristown
  • April 24, 6:00 p.m. at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in Philadelphia

Event sign-up, the link to the surveys, and more details are found at the Climate Action for Environmental Justice Communities web page.

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