OFFICE OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
The Office of Environmental Justice was established as a point of contact for Pennsylvania residents in low income areas and areas with a higher number of minorities. Its primary goal is to increase communities' environmental awareness and involvement in the DEP permitting process. To find out more information about permitting actions in your area, sign up for eNOTICE.
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental justice embodies the principles that communities and populations should not be disproportionally exposed to adverse environmental impacts. Historically, minority and low-income Pennsylvanians have been forced to bear a disproportionate share of adverse environmental impacts. It is our duty to ensure that all Pennsylvanians, especially those that have typically been disenfranchised, are meaningfully involved in the decisions that affect their environment and that all communities are not unjustly and/or disproportionally burden with adverse environmental impacts. Simply put, environmental justice ensures that everyone has an equal seat at the table.
The Office of Environmental Justice fulfills a critical role within DEP – ensuring that the Pennsylvanians most at risk from pollution and other environmental impacts have a voice in the decision-making process.
In 2015, the Office of Environmental Advocate was reconstituted to reflect the commitment to justice and became the Office of Environmental Justice. The OEJ’s mission is to help the DEP ensure the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental policies, regulation, and laws; as well as with respect to the identification of environmental issues that affect the most vulnerable communities.
The DEP Secretary appoints 15 individuals to an Environmental Justice Advisory Board, which reviews and makes recommendations to DEP management on existing and proposed regulations and policies that impact the environmental health of communities, in keeping with the mission of the Office of Environmental Justice.
The OEJ has three main goals:
Minimizing Adverse Environmental Impacts, Empowering Communities, and Fostering Economic Opportunities
Minimizing Adverse Environmental Impacts:
Low income and minorities are especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of pollution. Previously the focus of the EJ office was to ensure that communities were aware of the impacts that a project may have – now that focus must be on ensuring that all projects, both in and outside of EJ communities, are considering those most at risk regardless of where the project is located.
One of the primary goals of the Office of Environmental Justice is to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly. Environmental Justice Communities typically have the least access to the political processes that can affect them the most, so it is critical that they have a seat at the table. In addition to the permit triggers, there must be an open dialogue between Pennsylvania industries and EJ communities.
Fostering Economic Opportunities:
Environmental justice communities are often economically depressed. The Office of Environmental Justice hopes to foster environmentally responsible economic development to and within EJ communities. For example, when there are projects proposed and already existing in EJ communities the OEJ will foster relationships with the community and industry.