Bill To Help Environmental Justice Communities Released From Committee

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee released Senate Bill 232 on Feb. 21, which concerns environmental permits in burdened communities.

The measure was released from committee by a vote of 3-0, and would require that a person who is seeking a permit for a new facility, or for the expansion of an existing facility, that is located in a burdened community meet certain additional requirements. The bill defines “burdened communities” as any area that is ranked in the bottom 33 percent of census tracts in New Jersey for median household income. The bill is now headed to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

S232 requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to adopt a list of burdened communities in the state, in consultation with the Secretary of State. Burdened communities designated under the bill will be required to designate a representative for the district.

Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th District, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, sponsored the bill.

“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,” Singleton said. “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.”

“Poor and minority populations are more likely to be affected by pollution in urban areas than wealthier populations,” Weinberg said. “To fix the problem of targeting poor and minority populations for urban pollution, we need to first figure out which communities have been the most impacted.”

There are several criteria the DEP would use in assessing what is determined a burdened community. These would include at least half of the households in the area qualifying as low-income households, and at least one-half of the residents are minority groups enjoying special protection under the civil rights provision of the Constitution of the United States and federal Voting Rights Act.

Environmental advocacy organization New Jersey Sierra Club calls this legislation an important step forward in light of certain communities in New Jersey having been overburdened by pollution for too long.

“This legislation will help protect disadvantaged and minority communities that have been a dumping ground and have facilities that no one wants,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said. “We have been trying to get legislation like this passed for over 20 years to address problems in these environmental justice communities. These EJ communities receive a disproportionate amount of pollution and don’t have the money to clean it up.

“This is why we have incinerators in Newark, but not in Short Hills,” he continued. “That is why it is critical to have EJ language to protect these communities. We want environmental justice, but what we have is environmental racism, classism, and sexism. It’s time that we start giving EJ communities a voice when it comes to air quality permits.”

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