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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: September 4, 2019 05:15 PM
From: Senator Vincent J. Hughes
To: All Senate members
Subject: Codification and expansion of the Office of Environmental Justice
In the near future I plan on introducing legislation to codify and enhance the Office of Environmental Justice within the Department of Environmental Protection.

In 1994, President Clinton directed Federal agencies to take actions to address environmental justice in minority populations and low-income populations. In 1999, DEP developed a statewide Environmental Justice Work Group which recommended the creation of an Environmental Justice Advisory Board and Office within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to address environmental justice issues.

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Achievement of environmental justice is accomplished when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and has equal access to the decision-making process in order to have a healthy environment to which to live, learn and work.

In recent years, stories of the prevalence of lead in our schools, homes and communities have received more attention than ever before. Stories reported by the Inquirer in recent months brought light to the toxic conditions of some schools. Unfortunately, these are not contained environmental issues. As the economy has shifted, previous prevalent industries have subsided and all too often left environmental hazards behind.

Under my legislation, the Office of Environmental Justice (Office) would be codified within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). A Director will be appointed by the Secretary of DEP and the Office will be responsible for advising and making recommendations on integrating environmental justice considerations throughout Commonwealth programs, regulations, policies and procedures and improving the environment and public health in communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harms and risks.

The Office will be responsible for coordinating with Commonwealth agencies to address and eliminate the disproportionate environmental and human health impacts on communities of color and low-income communities. Additionally, the Office will be tasked with developing a Statewide environmental justice strategy that identifies and addresses disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of the programs, policies, spending and other activities of the Commonwealth.

This bill also creates a multiagency task force, known as the Environmental Justice Rapid Response Task Force, which will address concerns from citizens or municipalities whom are disproportionately adversely exposed to environmental health risks.

I hope you will join me in sponsoring this legislation.

Please contact my office if you have any questions.

Introduced as SB917