The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) recently announced that it has filed six new environmental enforcement lawsuits. The suits target sites in Newark, Trenton, East Orange, Kearny, and Camden.

Environmental Justice Initiative

As detailed in greater depth in prior articles, environmental enforcement has become a top priority for the Murphy Administration. For the first time in a decade, New Jersey filed six new lawsuits seeking to recover natural resource damages (NRD). Last year, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and NJDEP also launched a new “environmental justice” initiative designed to address pollution and environmental hazards in minority and lower-income communities across the state.

When it announced the initiative in December 2018, the OAG filed eight environmental justice lawsuits. The Attorney General’s Office also created a new unit to bring additional focus to environmental justice issues. The section, known as the “Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section,” has repurposed existing resources and hired additional attorneys to bring enforcement actions and promote environmental justice across the state.

Latest Enforcement Suits

On October 25, 2019, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and NJDEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced the filing of six new enforcement actions targeting alleged polluters in minority and lower-income communities across New Jersey:

  • 461-491 Fourth Street in Newark (site of the Nanes Metal Finishing Company);
  • 723-725 Chestnut Street in Trenton (site of Sainte Marie Dry Cleaners);
  • 1474 West State Street in Trenton (site of Schofield Cleaners);
  • 260-268 Chestnut Street in Camden (site of significant illegal dumping);
  • 34-38 Stover Avenue in Kearny (site of Auto Scrap); and
  • 66-68 North Park Street in East Orange (site of Gas Mart).

“Today’s six enforcement actions are just the latest salvo in our ongoing efforts to stand up for environmental justice and to fight for communities across the state that have been ignored in the past,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Our message to polluters is once again clear: you cannot pollute the state’s air, water, or land and get away with it under our watch. No matter whether a company is releasing hazardous substances into the soil or an individual is maintaining an illegal dump in a residential neighborhood, we will take them to court. That is the kind of environmental commitment that all of our communities deserve.”

Environmental Crimes Handbook

Attorney General Grewal also announced the publication of an Environmental Crimes Handbook, which is a guide for the state’s law enforcement personnel. In his accompanying letter to law enforcement, Grewal highlighted that a range of laws already exist that empower law enforcement officers to investigate, arrest, and prosecute individuals and companies that cause environmental harm. The manual aims to “empower law enforcement officers across the state to understand the range of environmental crimes.”  It includes a summary of the elements and penalties of all the most common and widely applicable environmental laws. To further support enforcement, the Environmental Crimes Unit is also developing training to provide to state and local investigators and prosecutors to help address environmental crimes.

Key Takeaway

The six new suits confirm that addressing contamination in minority and lower-income communities remains a top priority for the Murphy Administration. Property owners and others who may be responsible for pollution and other environmental hazards in such communities should be prepared for increased scrutiny. Given that the costs of remediation and related enforcement penalties, businesses should also be proactive and contact an experienced environmental law attorney with any concerns.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-806-3364.