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Environmental Justice Bill Up in Senate On Monday

DEP required to consider cumulative impacts and may deny permits in burdened communities

An important environmental justice bill will be heard on Monday (1/26/15) by the Senate Environment Committee.

The bill, S1150 (Weinberg), would authorize DEP to designate an area a burdened community and require DEP to consider cumulative risks and impacts. DEP would be authorized to deny permits in those areas upon finding an unacceptable risk or impact.

The bill would also provide a process for communities to seek designation and would prohibit DEP from issuing any permit in a burdened community unless the local community adopted an ordinance that approved the project.

DEP has already designated environmental justice communities and already has the authority to consider cumulative impacts and deny permits, but has not used that authority or considered cumulative impacts in existing permit programs.

Despite candidate Christie’s promise to address cumulative impacts and EJ communities during the 2009 campaign – one of the bases for the NJEF endorsement – and issuing a narrow Executive Order , the Christie DEP has virtually abandoned the environmental justice policy and program initiated back during the Whitman Administration (*a symbolic, narrow, and toothless program called “environmental equity”) and *greatly expanded under Gov. McGreevey.

Gov. Corzine’s DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson promised action on environmental justice issues, but failed to deliver reforms.

The bill’s requirement for a local ordinance is new and essentially would make DEP permits subject to local approval.

This is a very significant and controversial change in current law and practice, where local concerns frequently are ignored by DEP.

I have written about these issues numerous times, e.g. see:

Below is my letter of support, requesting technical amendment to strengthen the bill.

January 22, 2015

Dear Senator Weinberg:

I am writing to express strong support for your bill, S1150 regarding DEP permits in burdened communities.

I would like to suggest a few minor technical amendments that could improve the bill, as follows:

1. Section 1

The definition of “permit” should reflect approvals or determinations made by or issued by both DEP and/or private Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRP’s) pursuant to the Site Remediation Reform Act of 2009 (cite).

This is consistent with the inclusion of other remedial oriented statutes in the current definition.

Additionally, the Global Warming Response Act (2007) should be included as general authority, because some of the community risk and impact reduction measures recommended by DEP may also serve global warming emissions reduction, mitigation, or adaptation objectives, i.e. urban forestry to reduce urban heat island effects.

2. Section 2

In the criteria for designating an area a burdened community, consideration should be provided for two additional environmental risk factors:

a) potential or actual lead exposure risks and blood lead levels in children;

b) potential or actual exposure to air pollutants emitted by mobile sources (cars, trucks, aircraft, ships – e.g. Port Newark).

The scientific basis for these recommendations can be found in this NJ DEP Report, see:

A Preliminary Screening Method to Estimate Cumulative Environmental Impacts


Additionally, research has documented that community health, obesity, and other health risks are impacted by access to parks and open space that provide opportunity for recreation and exercise.

Similarly, research has documented that lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, so called “food deserts”, have significant impacts on community health.

Accordingly, criteria to address these risks should be included on Section 2.

3. Section 3

The DEP Report required by Section 3.a.(1) should include the following:

“measures to avoid, reduce, eliminate, or mitigate adverse risks or impacts”

Similarly, Section 3.b. should be amended to authorize the DEP to not only to deny a permit, but to require that the permit applicant  avoid, reduce, eliminate and/or mitigate risks or impacts. 

4. Throughout the bill, the terms risks and impacts should be used together. They are different concepts and the bill should capture both.

Similarly, the bill should encompass both adverse public health and environmental risk and impact.

I appreciate your favorable consideration of this request and am available to discuss, support, draft, or work with OLS to draft the above minor amendments.


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