- The state Department of Environmental Protection held its first public comment meeting in Harrisburg.
- Officials hold meetings across the state to solicit feedback on new environmental justice policy
- No in-person meetings scheduled in Lehigh Valley
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — John Balkanic argued last week that fighting climate change requires investment — and lenders and grant makers shouldn’t be able to deny residents or organizations based on their zip code.
“Financial institutions, banks, and even credit unions, basically when lending money to a business or an individual, decide whether or not to lend based on that individual’s zip code. Publish it and move on with it,” said Balkanic, a chemist and engineer who works in the Center for Emerging Technology Applications at Northampton County Community College. “And the zip code alone is one of the things that basically drives the underdevelopment of those communities.
“…That’s why I want it to go away completely.”
Balkanic was one of just over 30 people who attended a virtual public comment meeting held by the state Department of Environmental Protection on Oct. 11. The event, scheduled to last two hours, lasted less than an hour, and officials gathered comments from several residents about the department’s policies. New environmental justice policy. Feedback is being solicited until November 30th.
Although the Lehigh Valley is the third largest metropolitan area in the commonwealth, no in-person meetings are scheduled here.
“If someone is applying for credit, someone is applying for a loan, someone is applying for a grant, their postal code is used as a basis for whether they can meet their financial obligations and repay their loans. You really shouldn’t see it. , that’s my concern.”
“It takes investment, some type of grant, or some type of financing to make these positive changes to reduce the impact of processes on our climate,” Balkanic said. “…if you have someone applying for credit, someone applying for a loan, someone applying for a grant, you shouldn’t really look at their postal code as a criterion for whether that person can meet their financial obligations and repay the loan. . So, that’s my concern.”
In mid-September, state officials adopted an interim final environmental justice policy focused on creating environmental equity across the commonwealth. The groundwork is already in place, and officials said the meeting will serve as a platform for residents and organizations to raise ideas, concerns and suggestions.
To find areas of inequity across the state, officials have created a system and mapping tool that highlights areas that are designated as environmental justice or “EJ areas.” These are censuses that identify 20% or more of people living below the federal poverty line and/or 30% or more of non-white minorities, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and federal guidelines. It’s a ward.
Of the Valley’s major cities, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton all have areas classified as environmental justice zones, according to PennEnviroScreen, the state’s mapping and screening tool.
Redlining wasn’t the only concern.
“There really should be a more coordinated environmental justice function across state agencies,” said Frieda Toepfer of Erie. She also expressed her concerns about air quality.
“We’re looking at regional impacts on ozone, regional ozone data, and there are microscale impacts,” Toepfer said. “For example, if someone is standing there, or a group of students are standing there waiting for a bus, and a bunch of semi-trucks turn around.
“It’s not measured. It’s not accounted for,” she continued. “It’s something that’s falling through the cracks. So we need a way to somehow address the effects of air pollution on a microscale.”
Seven in-person public comment meetings will be held, and one additional meeting will be held virtually. In-person meetings will be held in Philadelphia, Scranton, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh.
The next virtual meeting is scheduled for October 25th. For more information or to register, visit his website at DEP.