April 27 is shaping up to be a big day for Erie County residents when it comes to environmental justice.
From 5 to 7 p.m., the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will hold a “listening session” at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center as part of the agency’s Environmental Justice Tour. Then, about an hour after DEP’s event, Edinboro Film Series will host a screening of “Invisible Hand,” a film about Pennsylvania communities being forced by DEP to accept environmental risks against their will.
Pennsylvania established its Office of Environmental Justice in 2002 after being sued in federal court for environmental racism. The waste permit that triggered the lawsuit was issued under the leadership of former Gov. Tom Ridge, an irony I hope is not lost on those attending the event at the Ridge Center.
According to DEP, the listening tour’s purpose is to hear from the public about whether their communities are being sufficiently engaged in DEP’s decision-making processes, which include issuing permits for operations that expose residents to toxins and risks such as explosions and groundwater contamination.
But at the same time that DEP is hosting its “justice” tour, the department is suing two communities featured in “Invisible Hand” that have democratically passed local charters banning the disposal of toxic fracking waste within their municipalities. Neither of these communities — Highland Township in Elk County and Grant Township in Indiana County — are included in DEP’s listening tour.
To hear from residents currently fighting DEP, the public can attend the screening of “Invisible Hand” at 8:30 p.m. at Edinboro University’s Cole Memorial Auditorium on April 27. “Invisible Hand” also screens the night before, April 26, at 7 p.m. as part of FILM at the Erie Art Museum.
— Melissa A. Troutman, Coudersport