NJ Passes Bill to Protect At-Risk Communities from Pollution

Posted on 9/29/2020 by Lauren Scott

On September 18, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation that would require NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) to consider the environmental and public health impacts certain operations would have on “overburdened” communities.

The legislation (S232) defines an “overburdened” community as any community where at least 35 percent of the households qualify as low-income (according to US Census), 40 percent of households are minority, or 40 percent of households have limited English proficiency.

New Jersey has identified about 310 municipalities that have communities that meet the “overburdened” definition. Therefore, this bill is expected to impact roughly 4,489,000 NJ residents.

The State Assembly passed the bill with a 49-28-1 vote on August 27. The State Senate, which approved an earlier version of the bill in June, passed the measure in a 21-14 vote shortly afterwards on the same day.

The bill is being heralded as the first “environmental justice” bill of its kind in the US to consider the impacts of certain projects on lower-income and minority communities. Versions of the bill have circulated through the legislature since 2008, according to community advocates.

Which Projects Will Be Impacted?

NJ DEP must now evaluate the environmental and public health risks of certain facilities on “overburdened” communities when reviewing new facility permit applications. These facilities include power plants, hazardous and solid waste facilities, landfills, scrap metal yards, sewage treatment centers, and medical waste incinerators with some exceptions.

The agency will now only be able to approve new or renew affected permits in the Garden State after determining that there is no disproportionate, cumulative environmental impacts on “overburdened” communities.

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Tags: environmental justice bill, environmental protection, EPA, New Jersey, NJ, NJ DEP, NJ environmental justice

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