DEP has released the Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy, along with a link to the latest EJ mapping tool called PennEnviroScreen and the 113-page methodology document, that provides the background for PennEnviroScreen, which DEP plans to update regularly.
DEP has indicated it will begin implementing the interim Final Environmental Justice Policy when it is published in the PA Bulletin, currently scheduled for September 16. The publication date will also be the start of a formal public comment period scheduled to end on October 29. A DEP permit applicant who files a permit application on or after September 16 must use the new PennEnviroScreen tool to determine if the permit’s facility is in an environmental justice area.
Note the definition of Environmental Justice on page 5 of the Policy. In addition, the policy recommends implementation of a comprehensive set of tactics to proactively educate, engage, and empower Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth. DEP will maintain a list of all permit applications for projects (both Trigger and Opt-In Projects) subject to this policy. The list will be accessible to the public and posted on DEP’s EJ Project Portal website and updated regularly by EJ staff (now up to 10 people).
Who Does This Apply To?
The Interim Final EJ Policy applies to both Trigger Projects, as well as Opt-In projects. Opt-In projects are those that DEP may decide to apply this policy to at its discretion.
What Are Trigger Projects?
- Mining Permits:
- Large industrial mineral surface and underground mines
- Underground and surface coal mines
- Coal refuse disposal and reprocessing
- Large coal preparation facilities
- Revisions to the above listed facilities, and
- Reclamation where biosolids are used
- NPDES industrial wastewater facilities of 50,000 gallons per day or more
- Air Permits:
- New major sources of hazardous air pollutants or criteria pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, and PM10 and PM2.5)
- Major modification of a major source
- Waste Permits:
- Landfills or other disposal facilities
- Transfer Stations
- Commercial incinerators and other waste processing facilities
- Commercial hazardous waste treatment, storage, disposal facilities and
- Major modifications of the listed facilities
- Individual Permits For Land Application of Biosolids
- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs):
- New or expanded more than 1,000 animal units
- CAFOs of greater than 300 animal units in Special Protection Watersheds
- CAFOs with direct discharge to surface waters
What are Opt-In permits?
DEP staff or members of a community may request projects not specified as Trigger Projects, to be designated as Opt-In Projects. This then triggers an enhanced public participation process into the application review. DEP has a new form for this.
DEP’s EJ Mapping Tool - PennEnviroScreen
The online PennEnviroScreen tool is to be used to define environmental justice areas using 32 various indicators. Those indicators include:
- Socioeconomic Population
- Low educational attainment
- Language isolation
- Housing-burdened low-income households
- Poverty levels
- Age over 64
- Age under 5
- Sensitive Populations
- No health insurance
- Heart disease
- Environmental Exposures
- Toxic air emissions
- Toxic water emissions
- Traffic density
- PM 2.5
- Diesel particulate
- Compressor stations
- Children’s lead risk
- Environmental Effects
- Conventional oil/natural gas wells
- Unconventional oil/natural gas wells
- Proximity to railroads
- Land remediation
- Hazardous waste and storage sites
- Municipal waste sites
- Coal mining
- Impaired lakes and streams
- Abandoned mining concerns
- Flood risk
Once DEP has determined a Trigger or designated Opt-In Project permit application is complete, a public participation strategy will be developed by DEP’s OEJ and appropriate regional or district office programs, regional communications managers, and local government liaisons. This project-specific strategy should be designed to “facilitate the participation of all residents within the Area of Concern and the EJ Area census block group(s), and consider the characteristics of the community, the Area of Concern, and the type of facility proposed. At a minimum, in addition to regulatory requirements, the public participation strategy for Trigger and designated Opt-In Projects should evaluate additional outreach methods to engage the public.”
Inspections, Compliance and Enforcement
DEP may exercise its discretion to prioritize the inspections in an EJ Area.
The Department plans to “form an Enforcement and Compliance Team to prioritize inspection and monitoring at sites which have multiple authorizations, multiple on record complaints, habitual violations, sites with high volume generation or unique permit conditions, EJ communities, and sites of significant geographic location and to ensure timely and appropriate responses to violations, implement an efficient criminal referral protocol, and ensure effective collaboration.”
Civil Penalties and Use of Civil Penalty Dollars
“DEP interprets impacts to the environment or the public health and safety at an EJ Area to be a relevant factor in the calculation of a penalty amount for a violation and may include a dollar figure in the penalty amount for such a violation provided there is adequate evidence to support a factual finding that the violation caused the harm and the penalty amount fits within the statutory limits.” This section includes procedures for the municipality’s participation in identifying how the funds will be used. DEP will also notify any relevant EJ community about the existence of this opportunity for their municipality so that the citizens can participate in the decision as to how the funds will be used.
Note that DEP has included in this EJ policy, the “Policy for the Consideration of Community Environmental Projects in Conjunction with Assessment of Civil Penalty” (Policy No. 012-4180-001), which lays out acceptable and unacceptable community projects that can be used as part of the penalty process and other tax considerations, as well as public disclosure requirements.
This document discusses the PennEnviroScreen model development. The model appears to have been acquired, to some degree, from California’s EJ Screen Tool, CalEnviroScreen 4.0. developed by California OEHHA (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment). It is highly focused on risk modeling and makes many assumptions.
The document uses EPA’s Risk Screening Environmental Indicators model which models the impact of air pollution on the population. This info is taken from EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. The document discusses the rationale for each of the above indicators and draws conclusions not necessarily representing direct causal impacts.
DEP has indicated that the EJ policy is to allow for greater public participation. However, Rep Vitali has introduced HB 652 which would give DEP the statutory authority to deny a permit application in any EJ area based on cumulative environmental impacts. That bill is now in the House Rules Committee. Additionally, similar legislation was introduced in the Senate (SB 888). We are watching these closely.
We will work with other organizations on comments for this, but would welcome any and all of your thoughts on the issue to allow for substantive comments.
We have also requested the EJ Office present on this at the September Aggregate Advisory Board meeting on September 14th. Once meeting info is posted, it will appear on this web page.
Should you have any questions, contact Josie Gaskey.