Gov. Wolf, Black Caucus announce efforts to combat environmental racism

Members of the Pennsylvania Black Caucus, environmental advocates, and Gov. Tom Wolf stand for a photo at The Discovery Center in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. (Ericka Conant/WHYY)

Members of the Pennsylvania Black Caucus, environmental advocates, and Gov. Tom Wolf stand for a photo at The Discovery Center in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. (Ericka Conant/WHYY)

Governor Tom Wolf joined members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and local environmental advocates on Thursday to announce executive and legislative actions to combat environmental racism and to protect the state’s environment.

State leaders gathered at the Discovery Center in Philadelphia’s Fairmount park, against the backdrop of the Strawberry Mansion reservoir, a once-abandoned body of water that has been transformed into a wildlife habitat.

There, Wolf announced an executive order that aims to address environmental justice and support low-income communities and communities of color that are adversely affected by environmental stressors. These may include power plants, polluted waters, and pipelines that commonly lead to negative health conditions in the surrounding areas.

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Wolf’s order permanently establishes the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Justice. It also establishes the Environmental Justice Advisory Board, as well as an Environmental Justice Interagency Council.

“We can look at any map and determine the quality of one’s education, whether or not they will be denied a mortgage, how hot it is on their exact city block,” said State Rep. Donna Bullock, chair of the Black Caucus. “We can predict their health, and we can pinpoint their exposure to pollution.”

The Black Caucus also on Thursday announced three bills to codify Wolf’s orders. A fourth bill establishes a process for DEP to follow when reviewing permit applications for facilities near at-risk communities that the bills designate as “Environmental Justice Communities.”

The process will require facilities to submit an environmental justice impact statement and will require DEP to consider the cumulative environmental impacts on those communities when reviewing applications.

State Rep. Rick Krajewski has short and long-term goals he wishes to come out of Wolf’s executive orders and subsequent bills by the Black Caucus.

Krajewski said he hopes that the orders can bring more green space and better health to his West Philly district. “How do we take these things that already exist in some of the more privileged parts of our community, and how do we bring them to parts that are underserved, disadvantaged, so that they can benefit from them too?” he asked.

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