MURPHY ADMINISTRATION ADVANCES EFFORTS TO IMPLEMENT NEW JERSEY’S LANDMARK ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE LAW

New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette has issued an Administrative Order (AO 2021-25) to clarify the Department of Environmental Protection’s permit applications assessment for facilities located or sought to be located in overburdened communities while the Department completes its work to promulgate the regulations necessary to implement the Environmental Justice Law, N.J.S.A. 13:1D-157.

Signed by Governor Phil Murphy in September 2020, the first of its kind Environmental Justice Law authorizes the DEP to deny or condition certain permits based on an assessment of a facility’s contribution to environmental and public health stressors in the State’s overburdened communities. The full extent of the Environmental Justice Law will be realized once implementing regulations are proposed and adopted. DEP launched a public process for development of the EJ rules immediately upon the law’s enactment last September and expects to propose regulations this year for formal public comment. The rules could be adopted as early as spring 2022.

While the rulemaking process is underway, DEP is committed to using its existing legal authority to further the promise of environmental justice for New Jersey’s residents. Commissioner LaTourette’s Order, AO 2021-25, makes clear that DEP will utilize the fullest extent of its existing legal authority to further the intent and direction of the EJ Law to ensure meaningful public engagement and the implementation of feasible conditions to avoid or reduce contributions to existing public health and environmental stressors in overburdened communities while rulemaking is ongoing.

The Administrative Order takes effect immediately and applies to all permit applications for facilities in overburdened communities, as each are defined under the EJ Law, that have open or unexpired comment periods.

“New Jersey’s environmental justice rulemaking process is the first of its kind in the nation. Guided by Governor Murphy’s deep commitment to equity and justice, and our partnership with the Legislature to correct the policies and practices that have contributed to a disproportionate pollution burden upon low income and minority communities, DEP is creating a new regulatory framework,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “Our rulemaking process is moving expediently, but we must pursue this important work carefully. Critical to our success is open engagement with all stakeholders – residents, advocates, local officials, and the regulated community. In the meantime, DEP can and will better utilize its existing tools to promote a greater degree of environmental justice, and this Order will help us do so.”

“All people, regardless of income, race, ethnicity,  color, or national origin, have a right to live, work, learn, and recreate in a clean and healthy environment,” added Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice Olivia Glenn. “One year ago, Governor Murphy signed legislation that has set the standard for the nation in protecting the health and welfare of overburdened communities that have for far too long shouldered a disproportionate amount of pollution. We are committed to continuing to work with them to do all we can to build a fairer and more just New Jersey by facilitating the dialogue and relationship between responsible and forward-thinking members of our business communities and the members of the communities in which they reside and serve.”

The DEP earlier this year completed an extensive and robust stakeholder process and expects to formally propose transparent and data-driven Environmental Justice regulations this fall with the earliest adoption being in the first quarter of 2022. Specifically, AO 2021-25 sets the following requirements:

Extends public comment periods to at least 60 days, with a potential extension for an additional 30 day period upon the written request of a member(s) of the overburdened community;

Require a mandatory public hearing in a manner intended to maximize participation of individuals within the overburdened community;

During the extended public comment period and public hearing, encourage individuals to provide information regarding existing conditions within the overburdened community and potential facility-wide environmental and public health stressors that could result in adverse impacts in the event of an approval;

Require the applicant to respond to and address the concerns raised by individuals in the overburdened community and to conduct any additional analysis related thereto that the Department deems necessary for its review;

Strongly encourage each applicant to engage directly with individuals in the overburdened community in advance of, and in addition to, formal public comment, including providing relevant information related to facility-wide impacts; and

Where permits or approvals may be issued, the Department will apply such special conditions as may be necessary to avoid or minimize environmental or public health stressors.

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. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of government policies.

More than 4.5 million people live within 3,168 Overburdened Community block groups located within 331 municipalities. The list and Environmental Justice Mapping Tool are available here. 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).

For detailed information, including background on stakeholder meetings and the DEP’s Office of Environmental Justice, visit https://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/

Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur and follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP