Although we all share the planet, the consequences of climate change do not impact us all equally. Historically, the communities that have faced the most significant harm due to climate change are people of color and other marginalized groups. The environmental justice movement was founded in response to this reality and fought tirelessly to correct these historic wrongs and improve our planet. New Jersey is joining this fight significantly with the passage of the nation’s first environmental justice rules, helping keep vulnerable communities out of harm’s way.
This week, Governor Murphy announced the final adoption of regulations to introduce the landmark Environmental Justice Law. This law, the first of its kind in the nation, adopts policies and procedures to help reduce pollution in historically overburdened communities and communities of color, which have been subjected to a disproportionately high number of environmental and public health stressors. This legislation has been a long-fought effort that has brought together governmental representatives, members of impacted communities, and ecological and social justice advocates to find solutions that will truly work for all New Jerseyans. These adoptions will continue to advance the fight for environmental justice through meaningful measures, including:
- Prioritizing community engagement
- Reducing public health risks through the use of pollution controls
- Limiting negative impacts new pollution-generating facilities have on vulnerable communities
In reflecting upon this historic legislation, Governor Murphy noted, “Since the outset of my Administration, we have worked incredibly hard to ensure that all people—regardless of income, race, ethnicity, color, or national origin—can enjoy their right to live, work, learn, and recreate in a clean and healthy environment. As we enter Earth Week 2023, the final adoption of DEP’s EJ Rules will further the promise of environmental justice by prioritizing meaningful community engagement, reducing public health risks through the use of innovative pollution controls, and limiting adverse impacts that new pollution-generating facilities can have in already vulnerable communities.”
“It’s no secret that poor, urban, and minority communities have been oversaturated with toxic facilities, and they have never had a real voice in determining whether these businesses and institutions were acceptable,” said Senator Troy Singleton. “For generations, these communities have suffered from the adverse health effects of the environmental degradation of their neighborhoods. By tackling this issue head on, New Jersey has an opportunity to send a clear message that everyone – regardless of their zip code, income, or race – deserves the right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, and to live free of toxic pollutants.”
Under the Environmental Justice Rules, when proposing to locate certain pollution-causing facilities in an overburdened community, the applicant must prepare an environmental justice impact statement and engage directly with their proposed host community members by hosting a public hearing. In addition, the applicant must gather all public comments and provide community members with a written response.
DEP will then evaluate whether pollution from the proposed facility would cause or contribute to environmental and public health stressors at levels disproportionate to those in less burdened communities. The EJ Rules require permit applicants to avoid and minimize such stressors, including through the use of added pollution control technology. Where disproportionate impacts are unavoidable, certain new facilities could be limited, or existing facilities could be subject to additional permit conditions that reduce environmental and public health stressors affecting the community.
Although any action we take now cannot possibly erase the injustices communities have faced in the past, these measures assure that we can begin correcting these historical wrongs and forge a more equitable for the next generation. New Jersey continues to pave the way for states nationwide, and this legislation will undoubtedly impact New Jerseyans for years to come. A brighter future begins with us, and we can all take pride in knowing that the Garden State continues to move in a more just, equitable direction daily.