PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WHTM) — Gov. Wolf joined Pa. Legislative Black Caucus members and environmental advocates in Philadelphia to announce an Executive Ordered issued to address environmental justice in low-income communities and communities of color that are adversely impacted by environmental issues and accompanying health problems.

“We must do the hard work to prevent further climate damage, to mitigate environmental pollution and the unfair harm it causes to vulnerable communities, and to ensure every Pennsylvanian can claim their constitutional right to a clean, healthy environment,” Gov. Wolf said. “The actions we are announcing today are an important next step toward true environmental justice in Pennsylvania.” 

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According to the press release, the order issues will permanently establish the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Environmental Justice. It also establishes the Environmental Advisory Board and an Environmental Justice Interagency Council.

“Many Pennsylvania communities have been disproportionately harmed by pollution, and today’s executive order by Governor Wolf is a first step in making sure that we have some of the tools to mitigate and prevent it from happening in the future,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said.

Along with the executive order, State Representatives Donna Bullock, Malcolm Kenyatta and Chris Rabb, plus state Senator Vincent Hughes, have proposed bills to support the executive actions.

“Study after study has shown that race is the best predictor for whether a person lives near pollution, and Black people are more likely to be disproportionately affected by pollution and even more likely than white people to die from exposure to it,” State Rep. Rabb said. “This didn’t happen by accident. It’s a result of systemic racism that has placed Black people and other historically marginalized communities in danger and kept them there.

According to the press release, the proposed bills would require a more transparent process before certain facilities are built or expanded with areas defined as “burdened communities.” The bills would also codify the Office of Environmental Justice and the Environmental Justice Advisory Board.

Both Gov. Wolf and the lawmakers urge the General Assembly to “swiftly consider the legislation.”

“Environmental injustice is one of the most urgent issues of our time,” Kenyatta said. “It is linked to racial injustice, as people of color tend to be most negatively affected by climate change. It has been 30 years since 17 principles of Environmental Justice were adopted and where are we now? How have those principles driven our environmental decisions as a country,” State Rep. Kenyatta said.