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Now Is the Time To Make Real Demands On Environmental Justice Legislation

Why are EJ activists settling for a very old and flawed compromise bill?

Missing the moment, big time

The visibility, broad public support, and political power of environmental justice activists have vastly increased recently as the result of street protests over racist police violence.

So, now is the time to leverage that political power by making demands for significant substantive reforms, not the typical token window dressing, sham, and symbolic gestures that have characterized the last 20 years of public policy on “environmental justice”.

So, with the Movement rising, the moment ripening, and their power and leverage ratcheting up, why are NJ environmental justice activists supporting a very flawed and very old compromise environmental justice bill that is moving through the NJ Legislature? (see today’s NJ Spotlight story).

The current version of the bill is a significantly scaled back compromise of the original version, which was first introduced back in 2014, S1150 sponsored by Senator Weinberg.

The original bill was gutted in 2 major ways:

1) the local community veto power was removed; and

2) the scope of the community EJ review and DEP’s authority were limited to only “new or expanded” facilities for certain DEP permits (not existing permit, permit renewals, & all DEP permits, including land use).

In addition, there were several other important issues that were not included in the legislation back in 2014, such as:

1) including greenhouse gas emissions in DEP permit reviews and mandating numeric reductions and mitigation requirements;

2) revising the science of DEP’s health risk assessment methods, permit review procedures, and regulatory standards to reflect cumulative impacts of multiple pollutants from multiple pollutant sources;

3) revising DEP’s risk assessment procedures to include the vulnerability, susceptibility, and actual health status of poor and/or minority communities (including consideration of such things as lack of access to health care; lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables (food deserts); lack of access to open space, parks, and recreational opportunities; excessive noise; the daily chronic stressors associated with racism; and urban heat island effects; among others);

4) linking NJ environmental laws to federal civil rights laws to close legal loopholes and strengthen community and DEP powers;

5) expanding the current NJ Air Pollution Control Act to include a new public health oriented policy of “precaution”;

In addition to the above significant gaps and flaws, the DEP science, risk screening revisions, and overall policy do not address what public health advocates call the “precautionary principle“, which is:

The precautionary principle, proposed as a new guideline in environmental decision making, has four central components: taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and increasing public participation in decision making.

6) putting teeth in current NJ Air Pollution Control Act “advances in the art of pollution control” legislative standards (known as “SOTA” for “State of the Art”) to enforce the above EJ policies and standards.

7) demand shutdown of polluting, paid for, and unnecessary dinosaur garbage incinerators (Camden and Newark and Union), see:

Now is the time to make real demands for real change, not settle for compromise.

A real change agenda is presented above.

It’s time for NJ’s EJ activists to get bold, not fold.

[End Note: This post is not about “purity trolling” or “virtue signaling”.

(Or a case of what  Lisa Jackson, Obama first term EPA Administrator, typically admonished bold thinking: “Don’t let the perfect drive out the good”).

Rather, reflecting current science and grounded in law, it is a technically sound and realistic assessment of the political viability and opportunity to leverage activists power, informed by 35 years of Trenton and DEP legislative, regulatory, political and activist experience.]

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