Both urban and rural communities alike can face environmental and health hazards around the state. Gov. Tom Wolf and Democrats want to make sure those disadvantaged neighborhoods are heard when it comes to protecting their health.
The governor joined members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, Democratic lawmakers and activists in Philadelphia Thursday to announce efforts to address environmental issues that affect low-income communities and communities of color.
“We can look at any map and determine the quality of education, whether or not they will be denied a mortgage, and how hot it is on their exact city block. We can predict their health and we can pinpoint their exposure to pollution,” said state Rep. Donna Bullock, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. “Many of these zip codes are often Black and brown, many of them are low-income, and many of these zip codes are also home to people who have been fighting for cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities.”
Last night, Wolf issued an executive order permanently establishing the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Justice, as well as formally establishing the Environmental Justice Advisory Board and Environmental Justice Interagency Council.
“We need to mitigate environmental degradation and the unfair harm it causes to all of us, especially to vulnerable communities, and we need to ensure that every Pennsylvanian can claim their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment,” Wolf said.
The three bills and a resolution introduced by state Reps. Donna Bullock and Malcolm Kenyatta and state Sen. Chris Rabb take those efforts a step further. The first bill would require builders of facilities within areas of burdened communities to prepare an environmental impact statement that includes any potential negative effects a facility may have on the surrounding area. The other two bills would codify both the Office of Environmental Justice within the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Justice Advisory Board.
The executive and legislative actions aim to protect the environmental orders from being unilaterally disbanded, even after Wolf’s term.
"The executive order and proposed legislation are a critical step in building infrastructure and tools that will enable the commonwealth to address environmental justice and support communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental harms and environmental racism," said Allison Acevedo, director of the Office of Environmental Justice.
Wolf argued that these measures will ensure stakeholders from all communities have a seat at the table when it comes to finding solutions to the environmental and health problems associated with pollution. Republicans in both chambers, on the other hand, see it as another attempt by Wolf to impose executive power over Pennsylvanians.
“Gov. Wolf continues to advance his political and ideological agenda by governing the commonwealth through the power of executive order,” Erica Clayton Wright, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, said in a statement.
Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, expressed similar concerns. “Today’s announcement confirms that the administration is using its final 15 months to solidify its dual legacies of using executive authority and litigation to make end-runs around the legislature and constantly caving to the left by implementing policies that merely amount to woke talking points.”