A draft of landmark environmental justice rules has New Jersey manufacturers and labor groups saying too many community members would be considered overwhelmed by pollution.
For environmental justice advocates, that’s the point.
In five public hearings in July, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection heard criticism and praise for its proposed stricter permitting for pollution-emitting sites. If approved as drafted, the state will have the nation’s strongest environmental justice rules for permitting — a model for other states, advocates said.
Under the ministry’s proposal, facilities such as landfills and incinerators would have to file environmental justice impact statements. They could be denied permits if built in “overcrowded communities,” unless those sites “serve a compelling public interest,” according to the project.
These communities are defined as having 35% or more low-income households, 40% or more minority or tribal residents, or 40% or more limited English-speaking households. In total, the definition covers about half of the state’s population, or more than 4.6 million people.
“Pockets of high pollution across New Jersey have been concentrated in predominantly minority and low-income communities” and are a product of the lack of fairness in existing environmental laws, said Sean Moriarty, deputy commissioner of the environmental department of the United States. ‘State, in one of the July Hearings.
“Compelling public interest”
Industry and labor representatives said the classification of “overcrowded communities” paints with overbroad and thwarts development that could deter businesses from moving into the state.
“Plainly, this means that the type of economy that we are trying to attract, such as advanced manufacturing and supply chain logistics, will be completely shut down,” said Daniel Ortega, a representative of the cooperative Engineers. Workers-Employers.
Opponents of the draft proposal have expressed a desire to see the exemption – a “compelling public interest” – widened to take into account the economic gains and employment opportunities that power plants, waste management sites and other types of facilities could bring.
“We’re only looking at one side of the potential damage ledger and ignoring the benefits that flow from a number of these facilities — the economic benefits,” said Raymond Cantor, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business. & Industry Association.
Public comment on New Jersey’s licensing rules will end on September 4. If the proposed authorization is passed, employment opportunities and tax revenues from such facilities will not be considered in granting exemptions, according to the draft rules.
An 84-megawatt gas-fired power plant under construction by the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission has come under fire from community members who say it should be subject to draft environmental permitting rules after they pass. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) had postponed a leave vote on the $180 million site, ordering an environmental review under a 2021 administrative order.
The plant would be in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, a multi-ethnic, predominantly working-class area named after the railroad, highways and industry that border it. For community members in such places, activists said more was at stake.
“It’s not just about jobs,” said Kim Gaddy, national environmental justice director for Clean Water Action. “This is about the health of members of this community and all frontline EJ communities in the state of New Jersey and in this country.”
The environmental rules to fully consider impacts on the community to be debated were created after Murphy signed Section 232 in September 2020. The legislation kicked off rulemaking from there until June, when the project was made public.
At the federal level, the Environmental Justice for All Act (HR 2021) would place the cumulative impacts of air and water pollution at the heart of environmental permitting processes. He cleared the House natural resources panel in July, after being introduced by committee chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) in March.
“The Nation is Watching”
New Jersey Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D), one of S. 232’s main sponsors, said the industry should have no escape.
“Linking and saying an economic public interest is a giant loophole that will kill children,” Timberlake said. “It will kill adults. It will kill our elders.
Each year, more than 17,000 deaths in New Jersey are attributable to air pollution, according to an April 2021 Environmental Study of Fossil Fuel Air Pollution Deaths published in Environmental Research. Proponents who hope to preserve the strength of environmental justice rules said they would also reduce pollution-related health care costs.
“The nation is watching,” said Marcus Sibley, environmental and climate justice chair for the NAACP’s New Jersey State Conference. “But what they’re looking to see is…is it symbolic?” Are we really going to close the loopholes?