GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell was among those who presented comments Wednesday to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding its newly unveiled Environmental Justice policy.
Here's what he said during the virtual public hearing:
Good evening. My name is Patrick Campbell. I am the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), a nonprofit organization working to improve air quality since 1969.
GASP applauds the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for instituting an updated Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy and is generally supportive of the agency’s approach.
However, we believe the new policy would be more effective if DEP would determine how its permitting process can be made more transparent and open to public participation in general. Specifically, we believe DEP should - and could - include two additional measures in its new policy:
First, DEP could make more - if not all - draft permits available online. Currently, residents interested in viewing those documents would need to make a public records request or participate in an informal file review.
While lawyers and environmental advocates are well-versed in open records rules, DEP would be wise to recognize that this process can be a barrier to residents and their ability to participate in public hearings or via public comment.
Second, the agency could identify what information it seeks from the public in its permitting decisions and then educate residents and encourage their participation in the process so that they can advocate for their communities by pushing for stronger environmental and public health protections.
All too often, GASP has attended important public hearings regarding facility permits, policy updates, and regulation drafts that were sparsely attended by residents, despite having major environmental and public health implications in their hometowns. And all too often, the reason is because of a lack of awareness - not because of a lack of caring.
We’re hopeful that improvements to the ways DEP communicates with and educates residents in environmental justice areas will help ensure that the Pennsylvanians most impacted by pollution have a real voice - a real seat at the table - when it comes to the policies, permitting, and regulation decisions that impact them and their communities.
Editor's Note: While the virtual hearing may be over, the deadline for residents to submit public comments on the new policy is not. If you haven't already, we encourage you to weigh in - we've made doing so as simple as possible. Check out our Cliffs Notes-style public comment guide and online form. Only takes a minute to share your experiences - promise!