Governor Tom Wolf joined members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC) and local environmental advocates at the Discovery Center to announce executive and legislative actions that will ensure that all Pennsylvanians, especially disadvantaged communities, are included in conversations and decisions to protect our environment.
“We must do the hard work to prevent further climate damage, to mitigate environmental pollution and the unfair harm it causes to vulnerable communities, and to ensure every Pennsylvanian can claim their constitutional right to a clean, healthy environment. My administration is committed to working with stakeholders to strengthen our efforts to ensure environmental justice for all Pennsylvanians,” Gov. Wolf said. “The actions we are announcing today are an important next step toward true environmental justice in Pennsylvania.”
Governor Wolf has issued an Executive Order strengthening the Wolf Administration’s efforts to address environmental justice and support low-income communities and communities of color that are adversely impacted by environmental issues with accompanying adverse health impacts.
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.
“Many Pennsylvania communities have been disproportionately harmed by pollution, and today’s executive order by Governor Wolf is a first step in making sure that we have some of the tools to mitigate and prevent it from happening in the future,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
“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 DEP Office of Environmental Justice Director Allison Acevedo.
The announcement was held at The Discovery Center, a nature-based environmental center located in East Fairmount Park. The center, which is managed by Audubon Mid-Atlantic and Philadelphia Outward Bound School, is home to the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir, a century-old, abandoned reservoir that has been transformed into a wildlife sanctuary and an important stopover location for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. The Discovery Center, which opened to the public in September 2018, makes the natural space accessible and welcoming to nearby community members. It also provides outdoor leadership and conservation education programming.
State Representatives Donna Bullock, Malcolm Kenyatta and Chris Rabb and state Senator Vincent Hughes have proposed bills to support the governor’s executive actions. Their bills would require a more transparent and open process before certain facilities are built or expanded within areas defined as “burdened communities,” codify the Office of Environmental Justice within DEP and codify the Environmental Justice Advisory Board. These legislative actions would protect these actions from being unilaterally disbanded.
The lawmakers noted that these actions coincide with the 30th anniversary of the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, which was held October 24-27, 1991, in Washington, DC. The summit led to the adoption of its defining document, the Principles of Environmental Justice. The legislators have introduced a resolution recognizing the anniversary of the adoption of the environmental justice principles.
The governor and lawmakers urged the General Assembly to swiftly consider the legislation.
“On this 30th anniversary of the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit that adopted the 17 principles of environmental justice, we need to take an honest look at our commonwealth’s commitment to environmental justice,” Bullock said. “Members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus stand with communities of color and low-income communities in the fight for clean air, clean water, healthy homes and healthy schools. Today we celebrate the 17 principles of environmental justice with intentional and meaningful legislation that gives a voice to all Pennsylvanians so that they have access to a healthy environment in which to grow, live, learn and thrive.”
“Environmental injustice is one of the most urgent issues of our time,” Kenyatta said. “It is linked to racial injustice, as people of color tend to be most negatively affected by climate change. It has been 30 years since 17 principles of Environmental Justice were adopted and where are we now? How have those principles driven our environmental decisions as a country?” Kenyatta said. “On this anniversary of that very important adoption, we need to remember that the fight to protect our environment and the people most vulnerable to its effects is not over.”
“Study after study has shown that race is the best predictor for whether a person lives near pollution, and Black people are more likely to be disproportionately affected by pollution and even more likely than white people to die from exposure to it,” Rabb said. “This didn’t happen by accident. It’s a result of systemic racism that has placed Black people and other historically marginalized communities in danger and kept them there. As I have said many times before, systemic problems must be addressed with systemic solutions, and our elected officials and government must be part of the solution.
“With the 30th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Principles of Environmental Justice at the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit being recently commemorated, there is no better time than the present to correct the problems from our past that continue to affect our present and will affect our future,” Rabb said.
“For too long the impact of environmental hazards on minority and low-income populations were ignored by government at all levels,” Hughes said. “The adoption of the Principles of Environmental Justice 30 years ago finally compelled government to accept that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all people and that environmental justice demands the right of member of every community be equal partners in every level of decision making. Over the last few years, we have fought to increase awareness and action on the impacts the environment has on Black and brown communities by removing lead paint from our homes, asbestos and mold in our crumbling schools and ensuring safe drinking water free of toxic poisons.”