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NJ Aggressive on Natural Resource Damages and Environmental Justice


December 10, 2018
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NJDEP Takes New, Aggressive Approach Regarding Natural Resource Damages and Environmental Justice

Natural Resource Damages (NRDare intended to compensate the public for the injury to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources. Natural resources are broadly defined to include “land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies, and other such resources.” The State of New Jersey has renewed its efforts under Governor Murphy to aggressively pursue natural resource damage cases and ensure settlement funds to remediate local impacts, an effort that puts many New Jersey corporations at significant risk.

The renewed effort was evidenced by six lawsuits that were initiated by the State in August 2018. In three of the six cases, the State sought payment for alleged injury to the State’s natural resources. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and New Jersey’s Attorney General declared the lawsuits as part of a “new day” for environmental enforcement in New Jersey. “This is the largest single-day environmental enforcement action in New Jersey in at least a decade,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said during a press conference addressing the lawsuits. “We are going to hold polluters accountable – no matter how big, no matter how powerful, no matter how long they’ve been getting away with it,” Grewal said. “And we’re sending a message to every company across the state: If you pollute our natural resources, we are going to make you pay.”

NRD claims remain vulnerable to challenge and often lead to complex and protracted litigation. NJDEP has not yet promulgated any regulations governing NRD claims or provided guidance for calculating NRD. As a result, NJDEP’s ability to recover on NRD claims has been impaired. To that end, Senator Bob Smith recently assembled a Task Force to devise objective monetary figures pertaining to NRD.  The Task Force is scheduled to propose a draft of related regulations by the end of the year.

Separately, the Murphy administration is filing eight lawsuits against companies for pollution in middle and lower income neighborhoods as part of an “environmental justice” campaign. “ The campaign focuses on addressing pollution and environmental hazards in minority and lower-income communities across the State. Accordingly, the eight lawsuits filed concerns sites in Camden, Flemington, Newark, Palmyra, Pennsauken, Phillipsburg, and Trenton. “Environmental justice means that everyone, no matter race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or income, deserves to live and work in a healthy and clean environment.” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. In addition to the eight lawsuits, Grewal also announced that the Attorney General’s Office is restructuring its environmental enforcement section to create an Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section. The new section will use existing resources and hire additional attorneys to bring more environmental enforcement actions across the state.

If you have questions, please contact us

NJDEP’s new, aggressive approaches regarding NRD and
Environmental Justice need to be priorities for every business in New Jersey. If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Hunain Sarwar, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-806-3364.