Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy
The Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy is a critical part of DEP's environmental justice work, providing guidelines for DEP's approach to permit applications and outlining our permit review process in Environmental Justice Areas. Communities where 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line and/or 30 percent are non-white minorities are defined as Environmental Justice Areas in the policy.
The policy was created to increase engagement in EJ Areas and ensure those communities have the opportunity to participate and be involved in a meaningful manner throughout the permitting process when regulated activities are proposed in their neighborhood or when existing facilities expand their operations.
Enhanced Public Participation Policy
The Pennsylvania Enhanced Public Participation Process
Under the guidance of the Environmental Justice Advisory Work Group, DEP developed the EJ Enhanced Public Participation Policy (PDF). The policy was created to increase engagement in EJ Areas and ensure those communities have the opportunity to participate and be involved in a meaningful manner throughout the permitting process when companies propose permitted facilities in their neighborhood or when existing facilities expand their operations. Appendix A of the policy includes a list of permits which trigger the EJ Enhanced Public Participation Policy.
The Department conducted a process of revising the Environmental Justice (EJ) Public Participation Policy (Policy) that was released for public comment in 2018. 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, that is, EJ areas. The draft Policy included several revisions and updates but continued to focus solely on public engagement in the permitting 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 has decided to withdraw the draft Policy to develop a Policy that will focus on integrating EJ into other Department practices and policies to provide tangible benefits to communities. The Department is focused on incorporating a community engagement process to ensure inclusive community voice around its creation. The new updated Policy is proposed to include: revised EJ areas/population definition; interagency collaboration and EJ planning; EJ mapping, resource and data development; grantmaking practices around EJ; translation processes; and EJ training for Department staff and external partners. The existing EJ Policy from 2004 will remain in effect until the revised policy is created.
- DEP strongly encourages applicants to meet with community stakeholders. DEP notifies the applicant early in the process when a permit application meets the criteria for EJ, and, when appropriate, provides assistance to the applicant with outreach initiatives.
- DEP produces and distributes project summary documents regarding the proposed activity.
- DEP provides stakeholders with information regarding proposed permit conditions and, when needed, offers clarification to help make project details more apparent.
- DEP encourages the use of electronic, conventional and non-conventional methods of spreading information to community members.
- Public Notices are written in terminology easily understood by the majority of readers within the EJ area.
- Notices are placed in publications widely read by the community in those areas, and placed locally in areas of high visibility. Examples of effective vehicles for notification include, but are not limited to local newspapers, community newsletters, church bulletins, public service announcements and notices on local radio and television stations, notices posted in areas of high foot traffic, notices to local environmental groups, and notices to local community centers.
- Applicants are encouraged to mail all the appropriate information about the project to those in an EJ area.
- Pre-application meetings: As part of the enhanced public participation strategy, DEP strongly encourages potential applicants to meet with community stakeholders prior to submitting an application to DEP.
- Informational meetings: DEP, in coordination with the applicant, schedules an informational meeting within 30 days of receipt of the application. The purpose of the meeting is to inform the residents of the scope and nature of the project in a timely, interactive manner. This meeting is in addition to any other currently required public meetings and/or hearings.
- Applicants' role: Applicants are encouraged to fully participate in the meeting, and may take the lead in setting up and conducting the meeting. It benefits everyone when the meeting takes place as early in the process as possible. DEP's EJ Coordinators are available to advise or to help applicants advertise the meeting to the local community, particularly those who are closer to the facility.
Summary of Application
- DEP provides a summary of the application that explains the project in terms understandable to the majority of readers within an EJ area. A sample summary (PDF) is available. This summary addresses the purpose and location of the proposed activity or facility, and anticipated impacts. These summaries can also be used in other aspects of public outreach.
- Document Availability - Access to relevant information is vital to meaningful participation. DEP's efforts to ensure participation include:
- Identification of convenient locations where the public can review applications
- Additional support on how to locate materials in a file
- If needed, extended hours for file review or reviews by appointment, including evenings and weekends.