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History of the Office of Environmental Justice

  • In 1999, DEP developed a statewide Environmental Justice Work Group (EJWG).
  • In 2001, the EJWG produced the Environmental Justice Work Group Report which recommended to the DEP to develop an Environmental Justice Advisory Board and an Office within DEP to address environmental justice issues.
  • In 2002, DEP established the Office of Environmental Advocate as a resource and a point of contact for addressing environmental concerns, and to foster community involvement by increasing community awareness. By doing so, DEP would be better prepared to serve all residents of Pennsylvania.
  • The group recommended the creation of environmental policy in Pennsylvania based on respect and sensitivity towards everyone, and with special considerations to protect vulnerable communities. The goal was the inclusion of community members and advocates as partners and participants in the planning and decision-making processes.
  • With the creation of the Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy in 2004, residents in environmental justice communities were granted enhanced public participation opportunities during the department’s permitting process with certain major permit applications, in addition to the normal course of public involvement. The policy provides EJ communities the opportunity of an informational public meeting, a summary of the proposed application, increased outreach and access to information on permit applications, and the involvement of a regional coordinator to facilitate communication between the industry, DEP, and the community.
  • In 2018, DEP conducted a process of revising the EJ Policy that was released for public comment. The Policy focused on enhancing public participation during permit reviews for specific trigger permits that warranted additional public input and engagement in specific geographic areas, known as EJ areas. The draft Policy included several revisions and updates but continued to focus solely on public engagement in the permit review process. Comments received during the public comment period suggested that the Policy extend beyond enhancing public outreach and engagement during the permit review process. After reviewing all comments received, the Department decided in October 2020 to withdraw the draft 2018 EJ Public Participation Policy to develop a Policy that will focus public participation but also on integrating EJ into other Department practices and policies.
  • On October 28, 2021, Governor Wolf issued an Executive Order on environmental justice. The executive order permanently establishes the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Environmental Justice, headed by a director of Environmental Justice appointed by the DEP secretary. The order also formally establishes the Environmental Justice Advisory Board and an Environmental Justice Interagency Council. The order also outlines activities that executive branch agencies should take to further environmental justice goals.