Exploring what “environmental justice” means in the commonwealth

Written by on August 25, 2020

Exploring what “environmental justice” means in the commonwealth

By Donna McDermott, StateImpact Pennsylvania

August 25, 2020

Dorothy Rider Pool Wildlife Sanctuary. Photos Courtesy of Wildlands Conservancy.

This summer’s combination of record-breaking heat, Black Lives Matter activism, and the pandemic has led to conversations on environmental justice. In this explainer, StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Donna McDermott reports on what the term means in Pennsylvania.

The environmental justice movement dates from the 1990s. Activists and researchers responded to a growing body of evidence that landfills in the United States were mostly built near Black communities. 

Today, multiple studies show that despite decades of environmental legislation, Black people and other people of color still bear an outsized burden from air pollution, extreme heat, and other environmental hazards.

Pennsylvania has an Office of Environmental Justice, which has identified areas where at least 20 percent of the population lives in poverty or 30 percent are non-white minorities. But there are no added regulations for building in these areas.

Some advocates say communities should have a say in whether a company gets a building permit.

Others say environmental justice can only be achieved when polluting facilities are shut down.

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