The State of Environmental Justice in Pennsylvania
Saleem Chapman, City of Philadelphia
Veronica Coptis, Center for Coalfield Justice
Adam Cutler, Fox Rothschild, LLP
Horace Strand, Chester Environmental Partnership
Heather Bedi (moderator), Dickinson College
Environmental justice aspires for all people- regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, or socioeconomic background – to have equal access to a healthy environment, including avenues to participate meaningfully in decisions regarding their environment. Environmental injustice examines which communities and places are disproportionately exposed to environmental health risks from industrial, municipal, commercial operations, or government policies. Research in the field of environmental justice has shown that people living in poverty, as well as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and their communities, are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation and pollution. This panel will focus on environmental justice work occurring in Pennsylvania, bringing together community representatives and members of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Environmental Justice Advisory Board to discuss progress and challenges to achieve environmental justice in the Keystone state. Panelists will reflect on the diversity of activism and legal actions taken to achieve environmental justice. Presenters will highlight contemporary and future efforts to ensure that all Pennsylvanians enjoy a healthy and safe environment.
This program is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the department of environmental studies and the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity. The program is organized in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Biographies (provided by the panelists)
Saleem Chapman is the deputy director of the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability. Chapman is responsible for the implementation of and reporting on Greenworks: A Vision for a Sustainable Philadelphia. He also oversees the City’s climate preparedness and resilience strategy as well as the application of a racial equity lens to sustainability. Before joining the City of Philadelphia, Chapman amassed a vast array of experience in the sustainability field, including professional work in urban policy analysis, environmental justice, and sustainable economic development.
Veronica Coptis is the executive director at the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ). She grew up in western Greene County overtop the largest underground coal mine complex in the country and adjacent to massive toxic waste dumps from
coal. She currently lives in the eastern part of Greene County, surrounded by fracking activity and threat of petrochemical development. She is a mother of two young daughters and believes collectively we can create a world that is healthy and more equitable for our children, grandkids, nieces, and nephews. Before joining the CCJ staff, Coptis served on the board of directors for CCJ and organized with Mountain Watershed Association. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology from West Virginia University, while working several service jobs. She enjoys hiking with her husband and daughters and watching reality TV. Read more about Coptis in a profile about her in New Yorker Magazine.
Adam Cutler is an experienced attorney helping businesses, municipalities, and individuals resolve complex environmental issues under state and federal law. For the past eight years, Cutler has been a member of the Environmental Practice Group at Fox Rothschild LLP, based in the firm’s Chester County office. Although Adam has spent most of his 25-year career in private practice, he served in the public interest sector from 2008 to 2012, working on environmental justice issues for communities in Southeast Pennsylvania and then serving as interim executive director of the Chester Environmental Partnership. Adam was appointed in 2011 to serve on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board, and since 2018 has served as its chair. He also serves as an officer on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, on the Pennsylvania Bar Association Environmental and Energy Law Section Council, and on the Waste Reduction and Recycling Work Group of the Lower Merion Township’s Sustainability Task Force.
Dr. Horace W. Strand, Sr. attended the Chester-Upland School District until grade 11. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and graduated from the Kubasaki Far East Dependent School in Okinawa, Japan receiving an honorable discharge from the Marines. He enrolled and graduated from the Faith School of Theology in Charleston, Maine in 1978, where he graduated and received a bachelor of science degree in theological studies.
In 1979, Strand founded the Faith Temple Holy Church and was awarded the honorary Degree of Doctor of Divinity at Jameson Christian College in Philadelphia, PA. In 1992, founder and 1st chairman of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL) Strand addressed clustering of environmentally unsafe facilities within the community. CRCQL provided testimony to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal multi-interest advisory group, concerning adverse environmental conditions existing in Chester. In December 1996, CRCQL filed a lawsuit against the PA Department of Environmental Protection alleging the Department’s waste facilities permitting process violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and EPA’s implementing regulations because it disproportionately impacted the predominately African American residents of Chester. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court and received national attention.
These actions were instrumental in the Commonwealth of PA’s and EPA’s environmental justice policy goals and actions. In 2005, Strand founded the Faith Temple Environmental Initiative, an outgrowth of CRCQL to address worsening conditions in Chester due to inaction on the part of agencies, regulations and the lack of community cohesiveness. Under the umbrella of Faith Temple Environmental Initiative and a grant from the Environmental Support Center, the Chester Environmental Partnership (CEP) was developed. The CEP hosted a leadership seminar for the purpose of educating and training Chester leadership about environmental health risks and promoting a cleaner healthier environment while attracting economic development and fostering jobs for the residents of Chester. The CEP consists of a coalition of local, state and federal government officials, academia and student representation, profit and non-profit organizations, churches and community leadership. The CEP addresses zoning, land use, permitting, environmental health and environmental health risk intervention, smart growth and partnerships to improve the quality of life and safety of the residents of Chester.
Among his many accomplishments, he received the NAACP George Raymond Freedom Award, 1995, the Environmental Community Service Award, presented by Wawa, 2009, the Pennsylvania Resources Council, Inc. Community Service Award, 2010, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major For Justice Award, 2014.
Strand currently serves as chairman of the Chester Environmental Partnership; a member of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Environmental Justice Advisory Board; member of board of Presbytery, Northern District Convocation, chairman of Northern District Nominating Committee; president, Chester Nehemiah Project; an active Community Development Corporation in the city Chester; advisor to the Lloyd Street Civic Association, Chester, PA; member of the board of directors of the Reach Alliance, Harrisburg, PA; and a Diamond member of BAEO (Black Alliance for Educational Options), president of Children First America Delaware Co., (A PA EITC Scholarship Organization) and an appointee to the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Board (NEJAC).
Strand currently serves as the executive manager of the Storm Water Authority of the City of Chester. Strand is married to Oluchi Gladys Strand and has three children, Horace W. Strand, Jr., Dietra Conner, who is married to Bruce Conner, Jr., James Strand and four beautiful grandchildren.
Heather Bedi is an assistant professor of environmental studies at Dickinson College. Funded by the Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust, she completed a Ph.D. in human geography from the University of Cambridge. Bedi’s research examines how civil society and socio-environmental movements experience and adapt to natural resource and landscape modifications related to energy processes, climate change, industrialization, and agricultural transitions. Her broader research and teaching interests include environmental and social justice, political ecology, development, planning, and low carbon futures. Her current work examines the everyday of energy poverty, solar energy access, and climate change vulnerabilities in South Asia. Bedi also examines energy injustice through the lens of shale gas extraction (fracking) in the United States. She serves on the Pennsylvania Department for Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board and the Cumberland County Food System Alliance leadership team. Bedi was a Fulbright-Nehru Academic & Professional Excellence Fellow in India.
Philadelphia Heat Vulnerability Index:
Beat the Heat Hunting Park:
Environmental Justice Areas in Pennsylvania Map Viewer:
Chester Environmental Partnership:
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board:
Video of the Presentation