Watch: Gov. Wolf signs executive order prioritizing environmental justice

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PHILADELPHIA — With one signature, Governor Tom Wolf added a new office in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to ensure all Pennsylvanians are considered in decisions to protect the environment.

On Thursday, Governor Wolf issued an Executive Order, strengthening his administration’s efforts to address environmental justice and support low-income communities and communities of color adversely impacted by environmental issues that affect their health.  

The executive order permanently establishes the DEP’s Office of Environmental Justice, which will be headed by a director of Environmental Justice that is appointed by the DEP secretary.

The order also formally establishes the Environmental Justice Advisory Board and an Environmental Justice Interagency Council.  

“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,” Gov. Wolf said. “My administration is committed to working with stakeholders to strengthen our efforts to ensure environmental justice for all Pennsylvanians. The actions we are announcing today are an important next step toward true environmental justice in Pennsylvania.” 

Gov. Wolf announced this order on Thursday, alongside members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC) and local environmental advocates at the Discovery Center.

“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.

State Representatives Donna Bullock, Malcolm Kenyatta and Chris Rabb and state Senator Vincent Hughes have proposed bills that would require a more transparent and open process before certain facilities are built or expanded within areas defined as “burdened communities.”

The bill would also codify the Office of Environmental Justice within DEP and codify the Environmental Justice Advisory Board, which would be protected from being unilaterally disbanded by this legislative action. 

“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.”

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