Tobyhanna reinforces commitment to environmental justice through pilot project

By Nicolo Manzo and Danielle WeinschenkOctober 19, 2023

A danger sign is seen hanging on a barbed wire fence in the foreground. The sign has an icon and English and Spanish text warning of explosive hazards. The blurry background contains trees.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Bilingual signs like the one pictured are part of environmental justice efforts to better serve the Spanish-speaking community surrounding Tobyhanna Army Depot. (Photo Credit: Nicolo Manzo) VIEW ORIGINAL
This infographic outlines the six-step process for an environmental justice pilot project being led by Tobyhanna Army Depot's Environmental Branch.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Tobyhanna Army Depot's Environmental Branch is following a six-step process to better serve marginalized communities through an environmental justice pilot project. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Courtesy Asset) VIEW ORIGINAL

Tobyhanna Army Depot (TYAD) is bolstering its position as a leading advocate for environmental justice in Northeastern Pennsylvania through participation in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pilot project.

Environmental justice is defined as the equitable treatment of all people when it comes to the development, implementation and application of environmental laws and regulations.

TYAD is serving as the EPA Region 3 representative in the project, joining Naval Station Norfolk and Dover Air Force Base. Although TYAD has a large community impact with respect to its size, both Naval Station Norfolk and Dover Air Force Base are substantially larger installations. This makes for a diversified group that can best determine the effectiveness of various environmental justice initiatives.

When presented with the opportunity to join the effort, TYAD Environmental Protection Specialist Matthew Argust said TYAD jumped at the opportunity, citing environmental justice as a focus of the U.S. Department of the Army for well over a decade and a key policy issue for the Biden administration.

“The DOD, the current presidential administration and Pennsylvania are making environmental justice a key component of the decision-making process,” said Argust, echoing a 2021 Executive Order (EO).

“It is therefore the policy of my Administration to secure environmental justice and spur economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment in housing, transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure, and health care,” stated President Joseph R. Biden in EO 14008.

At its core, this environmental justice program is seeking to find ways to better serve marginalized groups within TYAD’s community and more effectively reach out to the surrounding community.

TYAD has been following a six-step approach to achieving its two overarching goals – greater inclusivity and connection with its surrounding community. These steps are: identifying potentially vulnerable communities, identifying sources and releases, developing questions to guide engagement, engaging communities, assessing and protecting and documenting work.

When initiating the process through outreach to the community, members of TYAD’s Environmental Branch found many Spanish speakers living in the area. This finding represented a shift in demographics from past surveys – a growing trend in suburban areas near major metropolitan cities.

With a sprawling campus of more than 1,200 acres that borders on dozens of private residences, it is imperative that TYAD can connect with the community and keep them abreast of the environmental impacts of its mission.

“Over the past few years, many people who primarily speak Spanish have moved into the community surrounding the installation,” said Argust. “We need to be able to build relationships and communicate with the people who are affected by what happens here on post.”

As a result, the Environmental Branch now sends communications to residents in multiple languages to ensure the message is received and has installed bilingual signage around the depot to ensure greater safety on and surrounding the installation. The team also is pursuing a relationship with a Latinx cultural group.

Now that these initial steps have been taken, TYAD Environmental Branch Chief Paula Mesaris said TYAD’s commitment to the community will be an ongoing effort.

“I am looking forward to continuing to educate the community on hot topics in the environmental arena and building relationships with key partners to ensure environmental equity for all,” she said.

Argust noted that he and his colleagues are excited to be pioneers within the Department of Defense when it comes to environmental justice.

“It is important for Tobyhanna as an industry leader to enhance environmental awareness and elevate the standard when it comes to transparency. We affect change on a global scale – and we need to ensure we take the same amount of care with our local community.”

Environmental justice initiatives are directly aligned with TOBY2035 diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility efforts. TOBY2035 is the depot’s long-range strategic plan with four focus areas: C5ISR Readiness, Shape the Future, Invest In Our People and Strategic Communications, and aims to posture the organization for the year 2035.

The U.S. Army observes Army Energy Action Month throughout the month of October. The theme for 2023 is “Readiness through Resilience,” emphasizing the Army’s focus on increasing operational capability while reducing sustainment demand and strengthening climate resilience – in part through initiatives like environmental justice.

Reliable, continuous access to energy is imperative to the Army’s ability to accomplish its national defense mission. Energy resilience ensures readiness, combat power and deployment for our nation’s warfighters. The Army’s construction of on-site energy systems in support of critical missions also contributes to local community resilience by reducing demands on regional grids.

The “Readiness through Resilience” concept also plays an instrumental role at TYAD. By constraining consumption to only that which is most necessary, the depot maintains its status of being good stewards of the environment and enforces national security by way of energy security.

TYAD is a recognized leader in providing world-class logistics support for command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems across the Department of Defense. Tobyhanna’s Corporate Philosophy, dedicated work force and electronics expertise ensure the depot is the Joint C5ISR provider of choice for all branches of the Armed Forces and industry partners.

Tobyhanna’s unparalleled capabilities include full-spectrum logistics support for sustainment, overhaul and repair, fabrication and manufacturing, engineering design and development, systems integration, postproduction software support, technology insertion, modification, foreign military sales and global field support to our joint warfighters.

About 3,200 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the command’s mission is to empower the Soldier with winning C5ISR capabilities.

---With additional reporting by Justin Kucharski.