MIDDLETOWN — Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Patrick McDonnell visited Penn State Brandywine on Friday to speak about environmental justice at the culmination of the week-long on-campus Social Justice Fair.
“We celebrated and explored and examined and tried to understand the injustice of environmental racism and the many ways communities learn about it, fight for change, stand in solidarity with each other and learn to be great allies” , Vippy Yee, director of the Center for Ethics and Civic Engagement at Penn State Brandywine, said of the event.
During his speech, McDonnell spoke about Gov. Tom Wolf’s October order establishing an Office of Environmental Justice within the DEP that also created an Environmental Justice Advisory Council and an Interagency Environmental Justice Council. . The OEJ has three main objectives: to minimize negative environmental impacts; empower communities; and fostering economic opportunities.
He invited members of the public to apply to join the advisory board as well as offer feedback on the draft environmental justice policy. The deadline for submitting comments is May 11 and they can be submitted via https://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/eComment/.
“When we talk about environmental justice, we’re talking about the fair treatment of all Pennsylvanians, but especially those in disadvantaged communities, whether they’re minorities or low-income people,” McDonnell said. “We want to make sure that those communities that usually don’t have a voice…that we’re trying to engage and give them the opportunity to engage with us.”
He said another environmental justice policy was completed in 2017. However, he said, it missed the mark and the DEP decided to re-engage with the public to get a policy that addresses all factors.
The new policy includes programs identified in 2017 but also includes additional elements such as revised definitions of environmental justice zones or populations; increase collaboration and planning among state government agencies; develop environmental justice mapping, resources and data for community use; prioritize environmental justice in grant-making practices; and training DEP staff and external partners on environmental justice.
Three virtual hearings will also take place on the draft environmental justice policy – 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5; 6:00 p.m.; Tuesday April 12 and noon, Thursday April 28. Anyone wishing to testify at a hearing should contact Glenda Davidson, 717-783-4759 or RA-EPOEJ@pa.gov, at least 24 hours in advance, to book time to testify.
In his speech, McDonnell also talked about the climate, especially since the Climate Act requires the DEP to perform a climate assessment in order to take action from there.
“In 2021, we had the first climate impact assessment that explicitly included environmental justice,” he said.
The report found an average of five days with temperatures above 90 degrees between 1971 and 2000. It also predicted that by 2050, Pennsylvania will experience an annual average of 37 days with temperatures above 90 degrees.
“We’re going from less than a week to over a month of days over 90 degrees,” McDonnell said, adding that environmental justice communities are more likely to feel the acute impacts of these changes for a variety of reasons such as than people living in deteriorating conditions. home may be exposed to more heat stress.
Additionally, he said changes in precipitation have been noted in Pennsylvania.
“We’ve seen an 8% increase and expect to see another 12% increase in our precipitation,” McDonnell said, adding that episodes tend to be more localized and intense. “Now it’s ‘this community is going to get 5 inches of rain in a few hours and we’re going to have drizzle for 3 miles.’
“We are seeing very, very intense and very localized storms,” he said, adding that the flooding of homes is impacting the stress on environmental justice communities.
McDonnell said that in addressing climate issues, environmental justice must be addressed simultaneously.
For example, $50,000 electric vehicles are out of reach for many environmental justice communities. The secretary said the state is working to install electrical infrastructure in these communities and another avenue being explored is to offer higher discounts to low-income people who purchase these vehicles.
In conclusion, he said: “We certainly want to hear from you on politics, but on a number of issues. We encourage you to visit the DEP website. We always have stuff open for feedback. We always have opportunities to engage.