Critics of Pope Francis’ view that humanity has an obligation to protect the planet can’t seem to get their heads around the notion that there is a moral dimension to environmental stewardship. They lament that Pope Francis is not a scientist, but he does not need to be a scientist to pose environmentalism as a moral prerogative.
The quest for environmental justice is indeed one of the great challenges of the modern era. Rising sea levels already pose lethal threats to some of the poorest regions of the planet. Around the world, environmental degradation tends to be centered in poor areas.
It’s an issue that is very much an aspect of public policy. John Quigley, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said in Greene County recently that he wants to establish an office of environmental justice within the DEP.
The agency already has identified “environmental justice areas” around the state, based largely on income and other demographic data from the census. It also has an environmental justice advisory board, which seeks to ensure that people in environmentally at-risk areas are aware of environmental issues and have the opportunity to voice their concerns.
But environmental justice is not simply a matter of outreach; it’s a matter of overall policy and enforcement.
According to Mr. Quigley, the DEP has 14 percent fewer employees than it had in 2005, meaning that the DEP staff has declined amid one of the state’s greatest environmental challenges in generations — development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas field.
The Wolf administration’s proposed budget for DEP would add 50 inspectors, funded by a proposed modest extraction tax on gas.
That is among many issues contributing to a nearly three-month budget impasse, and one of the areas where there appears to be no movement toward compromise.
Pope Francis emphatically has made the point that environmental stewardship is not simply a matter of money, but of justice. State lawmakers should seize the opportunity to reflect that in the policy sought by Mr. Quigley.
This article was from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.