Environmental Justice for Whom? Pennsylvania Goes PC!
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.
[Editor’s Note: Environmental justice is a completely phony concept that does precisely nothing for the intended beneficiaries and, in fact, only makes it harder to help them.]
Government is nothing if not faddish; that is to say vulnerable to those who desire to manipulate it. Every pet cause that becomes a fad has some ulterior special interest purpose that is not what it seems. Such is environmental justice, which is sheer nonsense intended to make progress that would help disadvantaged communities much more difficult for the benefit of those who desire no competition. Carried to its logical conclusion, environmental justice would ensure nothing good ever happens for such communities except through patronizing government itself.
Pennsylvania has jumped on the environmental justice bandwagon with a map of environmental justice (“EJ”) communities and a policy it describes as follows:
The policy provides EJ communities the opportunity of an informational public meeting, a summary of the proposed application, increased outreach and access to information on permit applications, and the involvement of a regional coordinator to facilitate communication between the industry, DEP, and the community.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has defined these EJ communities:
For the purposes of the DEP Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy, DEP defines an EJ Area as any census tract where 20 percent or more individuals live at or below the federal poverty line, and/or 30 percent or more of the population identifies as a non-white minority, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the federal guidelines for poverty. EJ Areas are mapped on DEP’s EJ Areas Viewer at dep.pa.gov/EJViewerOpens In A New Window.
A quick visit to this EJ Areas Viewer shows this for Northeast Pennsylvania:
Notice there aren’t too many such areas on the map. Scranton and Carbondale are or on the list and the largest area geographically is the Borough of Susquehanna and adding communities in Susquehanna County. The next largest is centered on Canaan Township in Wayne County, which only shows up because it is the site of large state and federal prisons, which tells us most of what we need to know about the silliness of environmental justice as a concept. Many of those prisoners cannot see beyond the walls of the prison but they’re apparently entitled to the supposed benefits of “enhanced public participation” as to possible negative effects of projects that might impact that environment.
But, also notice in the upper left hand corner of the map a small EJ community. That’s the Athens Borough area in Bradford County. The Borough has a per capita income of $32,723, which is about 10% above Bradford County as a whole and only 10% less than the Commonwealth average but, according to the mapper, Census Tract 9504 (the Borough of Athens) has a 26% poverty rate, so it qualifies as an environmental justice community. The numbers don’t jive at all with the data published by the data published by the Bureau of Census, as anyone can see, but we’re talking government here so accuracy is largely irrelevant. The edict has been issued and that’s the end of the story for them.
There’s more to the story for us, though, because we just got an indication from DEP how environmental justice really works and it relates to a sandstone mining expansion project in Athens that is proposed to take place over several years. The activity is located on the opposite side of Route 220 from the developed area of Athens.
And, here is what we’re told (in two different places) regarding a hearing on the permits requested:
Census Tract 9504, which covers Athens Borough, is an Environmental Justice Area, due to a higher poverty rate. Hence DEP is working to facilitate enhanced public participation to ensure that the public is informed and has the opportunity to be involved. More information on Environmental Justice can be found on DEP’s website…
The location of the proposed map places it in the Athens Environmental Justice area as determined by DEP policies as administered by the Office of Environmental Justice [OEJ] and its Office of Environmental Justice Viewer Opens In A New Window. The main focus of the OEJ policy in this project is to do enhanced public participation because “environmental justice ensures that everyone has an equal seat at the table.”
This tells us nothing about what “enhanced public participation” means or how a policy designed to elevate some opinions over others possibly can yield “equal seat[s] at the table.” We do get specifics here, though, and this is what they include:
- Telling applicants to meet with “community stakeholders”
- DEP assistance to the applicant with “outreach initiatives”
- Writing notices in terminology “easily understood” by the EJ community
- Notices to “local environmental groups”
- Mail “appropriate information” on the project to those in an EJ area
Sounds innocent doesn’t it? That is until you reflect a moment on the condescension involved and the fact undefined “community stakeholders” and “local environmental groups” are given extra notification rights and their speech is clearly branded as being of superior value. But, the irony is this: there is nothing in any of the application materials to indicate one damned thing anyone said in pre-application meetings with “community stakeholders.” It’s all largely a sham, in other words; a make work exercise in virtue signaling and perhaps for later use in environmental lawsuits intended to shut the whole thing down.
There is zero gain for the intended beneficiaries from environmental justice policies. The real gain comes from the employment opportunities the project itself will generate and EJ policies only frustrate that potential by forcing additional time and money investments onto the project. Environmental justice has a net negative return.
Postscript: I must also note another irony regarding Pennsylvania’s EJ communities and it is this: I live in one. Yes, Honesdale Borough is an EJ community, probably because so many seniors like me live in Honesdale. I happen to be still working but many are singles living off their assets with theoretical low incomes. Again, the silliness…
Yes, I live right there in the middle of an EJ community! More to the point I’m aggrieved because Pennsylvania DEP sold me and my less fortunate fellow citizens of the community out when it advanced the DRBC fracking ban. That ban has, to date, prevented us from benefiting from natural gas development while the same governing majority allowed it to proceed in neighboring Susquehanna County and everywhere else in the Commonwealth. I want environmental justice for Honesdalians and I want it now.
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