The Senate Environment and Energy Committee recently advanced legislation aimed to protect environmental justice communities, such as those burdened with excessive and disproportionate exposure to pollution via power plants, trash incinerators and sewage-treatment plants. Senate Bill 232 would specifically require a person seeking a permit for a new facility, or for the expansion of an existing facility, located in a “burdened community,” to meet certain additional requirements before they can obtain the permit.
“We can no longer ignore that some of the decisions that were made with regards to the concentration of certain industries in lower socioeconomic communities have ignored the principles of fairness and inclusion in the decision-making process, leading to documented adverse health effects for those residents,” said co-sponsor Sen. Troy Singleton. “We must address the most egregious imbalances of this process that result in those having more financial resources and louder political voices crowding out those who are bereft of both.”
Key Provisions of Environmental Justice Bill
Under Senate Bill 232, an “overburdened community” is defined as any census block group in which at least one-half of the households qualify as low-income households, and either: (1) at least 40 percent of the residents identify as Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino, or as members of a State-recognized tribal community; or (2) at least 40 percent of the households have limited English proficiency. The bill also requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to publish a list of overburdened communities on its website. The DEP would also be required to notify a municipality if any part of the municipality is designated an overburdened community under the bill.
Starting 180 days after the effective date of the bill, any application for a permit for a new facility, or for the expansion of an existing facility, located in whole or in part in an overburdened community must meet certain conditions. Specifically, a permit applicant would be required to:
- Prepare an environmental justice impact statement that assesses the environmental impact and associated public health risks of the proposed new or expanded facility, including any adverse environmental impacts that can’t be avoided if the permit is granted, and the cumulative environmental or public health stressors already borne by the overburdened community as a result of existing conditions located in or affecting the community;
- Transmit the environmental justice impact statement to the DEP and to the governing body and the clerk of the municipality in which the overburdened community is located at least 60 days in advance of the public hearing required under the bill. The permit applicant would also be required to make the environmental justice impact statement available to the public, including on its Internet website, if applicable; and
- Organize and conduct a public hearing in the overburdened community. At the public hearing, the permit applicant would be required to provide clear, accurate, and complete information about the proposed new or expanded facility, and the potential environmental impacts and health risks of the new or expanded facility. The permit applicant would be required to accept written comments from any interested party, and provide an opportunity for meaningful public participation at the public hearing. The permit applicant would also be required to transcribe the public hearing and submit the transcript, along with any written comments received, to the DEP.
Following the public hearing, the DEP would be required to consider the environmental justice impact statement, any testimony presented at the hearing, and any written comments received, and evaluate any revisions or conditions to the permit that may be necessary to avoid or reduce the adverse impact to the environment or to the public health in the overburdened community. Under the bill, the DEP would not be authorized to issue a decision on a permit application for a new or expanded facility located in whole or in part in an overburdened community until at least 45 days after the public hearing.
The DEP would be authorized to deny a permit application for a new or expanded facility located in whole or in part in an overburdened community upon a finding that approval of the permit application would, together with the cumulative environmental or public health stressors posed by existing conditions located in or affecting the overburdened community, result in a disproportionate impact to the overburdened community when compared to the impact and risk born by other communities in the State.
Senate Bill 232 is now pending before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The attorneys of the Scarinci Hollenbeck Environmental & Land Use Group will continue to track the status of the environmental justice bill and provide updates.
If you have questions, 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 201-896-4100.