This blog is an update to one posted June 13: Local Elected Officials Object to Hearing Your Voice.
Recently the PA Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) held a public comment period on their new draft Environmental Justice Policy (“Policy”). This Policy was created to provide those who reside in an environmental justice community the opportunity to better understand the potential impacts on human and environmental health of a proposed project located in their community. Additionally, the Policy provides the residents of an environmental justice community the opportunity to voice their concerns and to suggest limiting the harms of such proposed projects with the developer and the state.
During the two-month public comment period for the Policy, hundreds of comments were received by the DEP, many in support of the Policy, including some ideas on strengthening protections for environmental justice communities. However, one comment in particular sticks out. The Chairman of the State House Environmental Resources and Energy (“ERE”) committee, Daryl Metcalfe, among many other elected officials, sent a letter to the DEP stating that the House ERE and its constituents believe that this Policy is without merit. Essentially, even though this Policy aims to provide constituents a chance to voice their concerns and better understand what is being proposed in their neighborhood, they believe the DEP does not have the authority to do this. Instead, the ERE argues that the General Assembly holds this power. Yet, the General Assembly has not moved on any legislation which would mirror what the draft Policy offers people living in the Commonwealth.
Even more troublesome is that the ERE explicitly stated in their letter that the DEP should have come to them, the General Assembly, to promulgate such safeguards. They also said in their letter that there currently is not any legislation that touches on this type of protection for the Commonwealth. That statement is untrue. House Bill 2043 was introduced into the ERE Committee on November 3, 2021. This bill contains many components the public asked for in their comments to the DEP concerning the draft Policy. HB 2043 requires operators to provide easy-to-understand reports of the proposed project and ample time for community members to review and comment on that proposed development, two of the very same mainstays of the draft Policy. To say that the DEP must come to the General Assembly to accomplish these goals and to share that there is nothing currently sitting in front of the General Assembly that is similar to the draft Policy is disingenuous.
CCJ is working with many stakeholders to promote and help move HB 2043 through the General Assembly and will provide updates on its progression.
Ethan Story is the co-author of this piece.