4 The record articles

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Releases New Draft Environmental Justice Policy

Posted: May 26th, 2022

Authors: Kristen A. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP or Department) Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) released a draft revision to the state’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Policy on March 12, 2022 (Document Number 012-0501-002).  The document was open for public comments through May 11, 2022.

The original policy was released in 2004, and there have been significant updates to the policy which broaden the scope of EJ initiatives and who is affected.  The number of permits that could be subject to the policy has expanded and the Department has added more clarity and emphasis surrounding the public comment period.  The following is a list of the main sections that have been added or revised:

  • Addition of a “Definitions” section
  • Addition of the responsibilities of the OEJ
  • Revisions and clarity surrounding “Opt-in permits”
  • Addition of oil and gas facility requirements

The proposed policy provides a list of definitions of commonly used words surrounding EJ, and a brief history and background regarding the state’s EJ policies.  The Department defines an Environmental Justice Area as the geographic location where PADEP’s EJ Policy applies and specifies that the method to determine EJ Areas will be outlined in a separate document, which allows for the areas to be updated timely and accurately with the most recent EJ data.   To determine if your facility is in an EJ Area, please visit the Department’s EJ Areas Viewer.

The responsibilities of the OEJ are outlined and expanded in Section I, Part C of the document.  The OEJ serves as the liaison between PADEP, communities, and regulated entities.  The OEJ is now responsible for developing and implementing an EJ training plan for PADEP staff; establishing an online repository of EJ information; reviewing and updating EJ maps on the OEJ website; issuing annual reports detailing the OEJ programs, results of trigger permit public participation, and grants and funding information; and developing strategic plans every five years.

The two types of permits covered in the policy, Trigger and Opt-in Permits, have remained unchanged; however, more clarity surrounding Opt-in Permits has been added.  Trigger permits are identified as permits relating to activities that have traditionally led to public concern regarding the environment and human health.  Opt-in permits are not listed in the criteria for Trigger permits but are evaluated on a case-by-case basis as determined by many factors including environmental impacts, community concerns, and cumulative impacts of the project.  The following project facilities may obtain Opt-in Permits:

  • Major sources of air pollution
  • Resource recovery facilities or incinerators
  • Sludge processing facilities, combustors, or incinerators
  • Sewage treatment plants with capacities greater than 50 million gallons per day
  • Transfer stations, solid waste facilities, or recycling facilities intending to receive 100 tons or more of recyclable materials per day
  • Scrap metal facilities
  • Landfills, including, but not limited to, facilities accepting ash, construction or demolition debris, or solid waste
  • Medical waste incinerators

PADEP will evaluate Opt-in source category facilities on a case-by-case basis through assessing community concerns, environmental impacts, and cumulative impacts.  The Department maintains the responsibility for determining which permits will be Opt-in Permits.

Finally, the proposed policy includes requirements for “unconventional” oil and gas facilities under Section IV of the document.  The Department intends for operators to provide information regarding planned and ongoing activities to the communities, and for the communities to participate in decision making that affects the environment and economy.  The requirements listed in this section of the policy will only apply to unconventional oil and gas well permits.

The last four sections of the document outline inspections, compliance, and enforcement; climate initiatives; community development and investments; and policy updates regarding the EJ Policy.  The sections describe how the Department intends to prioritize EJ areas, and notes that the policy is subject to review by the DEP Secretary at least every four years to determine if any revisions are necessary.

The public comment period for the updated EJ Policy ended on May 11, 2022, with a final policy and the expected during the summer of 2022.  For more information about the policy or EJ, please visit PADEP’s EJ Website.

Based on public hearings held by the Department, Facilities subject to EJ should expect more public participation throughout the permitting process and may be required to provide additional notifications to the community.  EJ issues, perceived or real, will likely adversely impact permitting timelines for EJ-affected projects and Facilities should plan accordingly.  Ultimately, the Trigger and Opt-in permitting review and determination will continue to be at the discretion of the Department.  ALL4 will continue to monitor this policy and others as we update you on changing regulations.  If you have any questions regarding EJ or permitting, please contact your Managing Consultant or Kristen Aune at kaune@all4inc.com.

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