Shapiro Administration Takes Major Step to Expand Environmental Justice Protections and Empower Communities

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

PENNSYLVANIA — The Shapiro Administration is updating its Environmental Justice (EJ) Policy to expand environmental safeguards and protect vulnerable communities. The new policy aims to ensure equal access to clean air, pure water, and environmental protections for all Pennsylvanians. Governor Josh Shapiro aims to elevate environmental justice work and address the impacts of climate change across rural and urban areas. The Department of Environmental Protection will continue its efforts to provide equal environmental protections for every community.

“Pennsylvanians’ right to clean air and pure water is enshrined in our Constitution and I’m committed to protecting those rights – that’s why my Administration is elevating environmental justice work within DEP and implementing a new policy that will protect communities most at risk,” said Governor Josh Shapiro. “The impacts of climate change aren’t limited to one community or another — they affect rural and urban areas alike, and every Pennsylvanian deserves to be able to let their children play outside without worrying about air quality and drink their tap water without fear of harmful chemicals. At my direction, Secretary Negrin and the Department of Environmental Protection will continue their important work to ensure every community, no matter their location, demographics, or wealth, has equal access to environmental protections.”

A public comment period will follow the implementation of the interim final Environmental Justice Policy, which is expected to be implemented on September 16, 2023. This updated policy will usher in deeper advancements for the Commonwealth’s environmental justice communities and is a critical benchmark towards the final EJ Policy, which is expected to be implemented by 2024. Additionally, DEP has developed an improved mapping tool to better identify EJ areas within the Commonwealth and has expanded the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) and elevated its leadership to a more senior position within the DEP for the first time in Pennsylvania history to better serve EJ areas.

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“Through the process of creating this EJ Policy and mapping tool, DEP reached out to community leaders to get input. The policy calls for proactively bringing communities together, to help make people aware of the rights they have around the environment and protect those rights. The emphasis on the Environmental Rights Amendment in this administration is an exciting change in perspective for the agency,” said Rafiyqa Muhammad, a member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Board, the body charged with making written recommendations to the Secretary concerning policies, practices, and actions that DEP may implement to advance the goals of Environmental Justice.

Environmental Justice Policy

The updated EJ policy directs how DEP’s inspection, compliance, and enforcement efforts can better include criteria and concerns of Pennsylvania communities most at risk from pollution and other environmental impacts. Furthermore, the policy outlines the ways in which DEP plans to increase outreach across Pennsylvania and build long-lasting relationships with communities impacted by environmental challenges.

View the Environmental Justice Policy here.

“Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution establishes that all Pennsylvanians have the right to clean air and pure water,” said Rich Negrin, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. “The updated environmental justice policy deepens that commitment by reaching out to communities, building trust, and increasing community access to support and assistance before they experience an environmental crisis or have a concern about a new facility.”

Following a public comment period and input from stakeholders from across the Commonwealth, DEP looks to finalize its Environmental Justice Policy in 2024.

PennEnviroScreen Mapping Tool
Screen capture of the PennEnviroScreen mapping tool, which allows users to clearly identify environmental justice areas.

The PennEnviroScreen tool is available to the public here.

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This state-of-the-art mapping tool allows DEP to more accurately identify communities facing environmental justice issues using 32 environmental, health, and socioeconomic indicators.

Starting September 16, 2023, the PennEnviroScreen tool will help determine if a permit’s facility is located within an environmental justice area. DEP is engaged in a department-wide effort to improve the efficiency and quality of the permitting process. This new approach, in the environmental justice context, will continue to help DEP improve permitting processes while continuing to cut down on wait times.

View additional information regarding the PennEnviroScreen tool here.

Office of Environmental Justice – Staff and Leadership

DEP has appointed Fernando Treviño as OEJ’s special deputy secretary, elevating OEJ leadership to the level of a deputy secretary for the first time.

The OEJ team has been instrumental in establishing Secretary Negrin’s vision to increase outreach around the Commonwealth and build long-lasting relationships with communities in need all across Pennsylvania.

Since his appointment, Treviño is overseeing the completion of the updated EJ Policy and has been instrumental in driving landmark achievements, such as overseeing the community-driven protocol development of a $5 million environmental mitigation community fund spurred by air emissions violations by Shell Chemical Appalachia, LLC. The local impacted community will also play a crucial role in determining how the money is spent.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, please visit the website.

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