It will be harder to build or expand projects that produce a heavy amount of pollution in low-income and minority communities in New Jersey under a landmark environmental justice bill passed by the state Legislature on Thursday.
The bill now heads to Gov. Phil Murphy, who had indicated he would sign it during a news conference in June.
The bill has been making its way through Trenton for years with little political backing until recently, when Murphy threw support behind it during a massive national push for social justice measures following the shooting death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Supporters called it a landmark piece of legislation that will help alleviate pollution in areas that have been inundated by it for decades.
"Environmental justice communities like mine have suffered far too long and now, after 10 years, our voices have been heard and our communities will receive the right environmental protection for our complexion," said Kim Gaddy, environmental justice organizer for Clean Water Action, an advocacy group.
Republicans said it would hamper development at a time when New Jersey's economy has been fractured by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"At a time when over 1.5 million New Jersey residents have applied for unemployment, the state cannot afford to hamper development with onerous and unattainable regulations,” said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris County.
If a company wants to build a new facility, expand an existing facility or renew a permit for an existing facility’s major source of pollution in an "overburdened community," it must first go through a new review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
- Facilities that produce heavy amounts of air pollution such as a gas-fired power plant or refinery.
- Incinerators or sludge processing facilities.
- Large sewage treatment plants.
- Transfer stations that handle solid waste.
- Large recycling facilities, scrap metal facilities, landfills and medical waste incinerators.
A company with such a project must submit an impact statement that assesses the potential environmental and public health impacts of the project. It must also hold a public hearing in that community.
The bill defines an overburdened community as one where at least 35% of the households are low-income, or where at least 40% of the residents identify as minority, or where at least 40% of the households have limited English proficiency.
Murphy has said there are 310 municipalities that contain communities that would be considered "overburdened."
One of the bill's primary sponsors, State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, had criticized the Murphy administration last year for not appearing to be fully on board with the measure that he has been trying to get passed for years.
But Murphy expressed his support for it publicly at a news conference on Juneteenth, the anniversary marking the emancipation of American slaves.
"After years of having no say, these communities will finally have a voice," Singleton said Thursday. "After years of waiting for action, this long-overdue legislation will deliver the environmental justice that they deserve."