State government should refocus its efforts on environmental justice

HARRISBURG, Oct. 5 – At a joint hearing before the House Democratic Policy Committee and the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, testifiers pointed to specific ways state government can refocus its efforts on environmental justice and racial equity in order to help communities. Testifiers and legislators said these efforts must include a focus on working class neighborhoods, which many times are plagued by environmental concerns, decreasing property values, a lack of fair representation in the decision-making process and other issues.

“As we heard in testimony today, many of the biggest challenges facing our communities are rooted in race,” Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Chair Donna Bullock said. “In order to overcome these challenges – including poverty and environmental burdens – it is imperative we address and eliminate racial disparities by changing policies and some of the flawed practices we have seen in the past.”

The hearing, held in the House Minority Caucus Room at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, included testimony from state officials, nonprofit organization founders and directors, and a Harrisburg University student.

The committee also received a letter of support concerning H.B. 2043, which would require facilities seeking permits within burdened areas to prepare environmental impact assessments before being considered for approval. The letter was signed by 21 organizations.

“We had a number of testifiers from various backgrounds who were talking about the impacts of environmental justice, whether they are from energy communities where there are coal fields or urban communities,” state Rep Chris Rabb said. “Folks who have been doing this work for decades or just recently, but the common theme was we need action, and we need collaboration, and we need help and resources from our state government. Rhetoric is not enough.”

More information on the hearing, including the submitted testimony from stakeholders and testifiers, is at Video of the hearing can be viewed here.