(21/P036) TRENTON –As the Murphy Administration continues its work to further the promise of environmental justice for all New Jersey residents, Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn LaTourette is launching a series of initiatives to ensure strong community involvement in state actions intended to improve the environment, public health and quality of life in communities historically overburdened by pollution.
Today, Commissioner LaTourette announced the expansion of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Justice, the launch of a revamped Environmental Justice website, and the beginning of a regular series of on-the-ground community engagement sessions designed to help inform DEP policy and actions with the goal of better protecting the environment and public health in overburdened communities.
The first in a year-long series of community engagement sessions will be hosted by Commissioner LaTourette and Senator Troy Singleton (Legislative District 7) from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 15 at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 150 East 2nd Street, Burlington City 08016. The DEP has been assisted in organizing this session by the Southern Burlington County Branch of the NAACP, the Willingboro & Vicinity Branch of the NAACP, and the Greater Delaware Valley Branch of the NAACP. Members of the public may also attend via Zoom. Advanced registration is required at Meeting Registration - Zoom (zoomgov.com)
“While our Administration proudly holds environmental justice and equity as key pillars of our work to build a stronger and fairer New Jersey, we can only make meaningful progress through deep engagement with our environmental justice communities, which speak for themselves,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “By working hard to improve the environment and public health in neighborhoods disproportionately burdened by pollution, we can revitalize communities, strengthen local economies, and improve the quality of life for all New Jersey residents. This is exactly what our expanded Office of Environmental Justice will do, and DEP is proud to launch the next phase of our efforts with Senator Troy Singleton with whom we worked to enact the most empowering environmental justice law in the country.”
“It has been over a year since Governor Murphy signed New Jersey’s environmental justice legislation into law. I was proud to champion this effort because I firmly believe that everyone has the right to breath clean air and drink clean water regardless of their race, Zip code, or income status,” said Senator Singleton. “However, now is the time to make your voice heard. I hope the community comes out to this important discussion so your input can be considered as the rules are being developed.”
“This community engagement session can be an opportunity for residents to share examples of environmental injustices in Burlington County and, once identified, they can be addressed and mitigated,” said William Weston, President of the Willingboro & Vicinity NAACP. “The Willingboro & Vicinity NAACP advocates for clean communities and business opportunities for Black entrepreneurs in the green marketplace. Environmental justice is important, no matter your race or community.”
“Environmental injustices plague black and brown communities more detrimentally and consistently than any other issues, but they are usually the least discussed or addressed,” said Marcus Sibley, Southern Burlington County NAACP President & NJSC NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Chairman. “It's as equally important for the people to speak up and voice their concerns, as it is for our governing bodies and elected officials to listen and fight for healthy habitats for all constituents. We're grateful for this opportunity to work with NJDEP and Senator Singleton to listen to what South Jersey has to say.”
“It is important to dismantle the systemic environmental injustices in our society by raising awareness through more dialogue with Communities of Color. We want to address the environmental harms with solutions,” said Edwina B. Sessons, President of the Greater Delaware Valley NAACP Branch.
Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. It holds that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies and that all people should have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health. Governor Murphy has made advancing environmental justice a cornerstone of his administration. In September 2020, the Governor signed landmark legislation requiring the DEP to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications. This law also gives the DEP authority to limit the future placement and/or expansion of facilities deemed to increase environmental and public health stressors on these communities.
The DEP is working to formally propose draft implementing regulations. Commissioner LaTourette in September issued an Administrative Order directing DEP staff to meet the legislative intent of the law while the final regulations are developed.
Last year, the DEP issued Furthering the Promise: A Guidance Document for Advancing Environmental Justice Across State Government, which states that “all New Jersey residents deserve to live, work and play in a clean and healthy environment. An outcome of Governor Murphy’s historic Executive Order 23, this document provides the framework for realizing the state’s Environmental Justice goals across the Executive Branch and in collaboration with communities that state government serves.
“Working toward justice and equity is a shared responsibility,” said Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity Olivia Glenn. “In New Jersey, we are leading the nation and sparking a movement, one that aligns with the long-overdue recognition that we still have a long way to go to bring environmental justice to many of our communities. Environmental justice does not only impact our urban centers, but also our rural and suburban communities. We must listen to and amplify the voices of people of color and low-income communities to pursue social, economic and environmental justice.”
More than 4.5 million people live within 3,168 Overburdened Community block groups located within 331 of the state’s 565 municipalities. An Overburdened Community, as defined by the law, is any census block group, as determined in accordance with the most recent United States Census, in which:
- At least 35 percent of the households qualify as low-income households (at or below twice the poverty threshold as determined by the United States Census Bureau);
- At least 40 percent of the residents identify as minority or as members of a State recognized tribal community; or
- At least 40 percent of the households have limited English proficiency (without an adult that speaks English “very well” according to the United States Census Bureau).
It will be the responsibility of Kandyce Perry, the DEP’s new director of the Office of Environmental Justice, to lead the DEP’s efforts to incorporate environmental justice into all of its functions, to facilitate a council of executive branch departments and agencies to amend the way the entire state functions to achieve social justice, and to work daily with the state’s environmental justice communities to ensure their voices are heard and have all the information they need as the DEP’s environmental justice work moves forward.
“Without furthering the promise of environmental justice, our overburdened communities will continue to be disproportionately affected by environmental hazards, health risks, and other challenges that impact their quality of life,” Perry said. “I am committed to being directly engaged with our partners, our residents and our local governments to ensure meaningful involvement and actions that will measurably improve the quality of life in these communities.”
For detailed information, including upcoming community listening sessions, background on the Environmental Justice Rule and stakeholder meetings, the work of the DEP’s Office of Environmental Justice, and a new video about the office, visit https://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/
Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur and follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP