DEP to launch statewide listening tour in early 2017

By Marie Cusick

December 20, 2016

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection intends to launch a statewide listening tour early next year, focusing on environmental justice issues related to oil and gas development.

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell says department staff plan to visit every corner of the state.

“We’re going into communities where we need to up our game on the public participation side of things,” he says. “To make sure they have information so they can meaningfully engage with us.”

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In Pennsylvania an Environmental Justice (EJ) zone is defined as a census tract where at least 20 percent of people live in poverty and/or at least 30 percent of the population is minority. The idea is to protect people in marginalized communities, who often get stuck with a disproportionate share of industrial development in their backyards.

Currently, permit applications for some things, such as landfills or coal mines in EJ zones trigger more scrutiny from the DEP, but that’s not the case with oil and gas permits.

McDonnell says the department has an internal working group looking at the issue.

Earlier this year, the agency said it would reconstitute its policies around environmental justice, including how to define an EJ zone, and revisit which kinds of permits would trigger a review.

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