By: Sean Guay
Harrisburg, Pa. – Pennsylvania State Rep. Dawn Keefer contacted Harrisburg100 today regarding the updated Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Environmental Justice Policy that is available for official public comment from now until May 11th. The new DEP policy is focused on environmental justice goals in compliance, enforcement, grantmaking, and other aspects of DEP’s work. The draft is outlined below.
Rep. Keefer calls climate justice a “propagated issue” where the department is wasting millions of taxpayer funds, yet is not adequately performing its basic state functions.
Rep. Keefer submitted her full opinion, which stated, “With each budget cycle the PA Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, bemoans a serious lack of funding for agency operations. When legislators and the public challenge the agency on their failure to timely or efficiently perform agency duties they explain, “we are under-staffed and under-funded.” Yet this public service agency, charged with providing environmental services to citizens in the Commonwealth of PA are using their, self-proclaimed, limited financial and workforce resources to venture into trendy initiatives such as “Environmental Justice”. DEP is spending millions of precious employee hours and taxpayer dollars, to address a propagated issue, that not one of my constituents has ever contacted my office about, at a time when their agency can’t produce a permit in under a year. DEP has explained their inability to monitor and manage environmental resources effectively or efficiently is due to limited staffing and funding, and yet they are focusing on redefining terminology, and articulating the application of justice ideology to the department’s environmental policy. I can assure you that my constituents, who are at the mercy of an agency incapable of providing fundamental and statutorily dictated, services with a modicum of efficiency, haven’t considered for one moment the ideological aspirations of the agency’s feel-good justice policy. If DEP desires to incorporate “justice” into the operations and functionality of their agency, I would implore them streamline their obnoxiously antiquated and burdensome processes and procedures so those being forced to pay thousands of dollars to comply with their ever-evolving mandates can do so fairly. The deck is stacked against, (some might say “rigged” against,) those who must acquire DEP’s blessing to conduct business in PA. If DEP wants to engage in justice they would do well to start with injustices endured by Pennsylvanians required to engage with their agency.”
Environmental Justice Draft
The existing EJ Policy from 2004 will remain in effect until the revised policy is adopted.
Stakeholders have been in talks for years about the proposed changes that are now assembled in a draft policy that has eight sections.
- General Information includes definitions, history and background, a description of the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), and the Environmental Justice Advisory Board (EJAB).
- Permit Review Process is the process around implementing additional public input around particular permits when they are submitted.
- Community Input describes a range of opportunities for public input throughout and before the permit review process.
- Oil and Gas Public Engagement was a major need identified by community members and was included in the fourth section.
- Inspections, Compliance, and Enforcementguidance helps the policy move beyond public participation in the permitting process and are covered in the fifth section.
- Climate Initiatives spells out ways that EJ can be included in the climate action plan and other efforts.
- Community Development and Investmentslook to ways to financially assist communities facing environmental justice issues in the seventh section.
- Policy Updates, the final section, specifies that the policy should be reviewed for updates regularly to ensure that the policy continues to address community concerns.
At the request of stakeholders, this policy goes beyond the current policy’s scope of public participation and meetings during the review of permit applications. This policy integrates environmental justice into more of the Department’s functions including climate initiatives, penalties (Inspections, Compliance, and Enforcement), and grantmaking (Community Development and Investments).