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New Jersey’s new Environmental Justice Law seeks to hold emitters accountable and protect overburdened communities

New Jersey lawmakers made history in 2020 by passing novel environmental justice legislation. Known as “New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law,” the statute seeks to protect communities who have disproportionately borne the burdens of environmental and public health risks due to exposure to pollution emissions and other environmental contaminants. N.J.S.A. § 13:1D-157 et seq. The Law defines “overburdened communities” as communities “in which: (1) at least 35 percent of the households qualify as low-income households; (2) at least 40 percent of the residents identify as minority or as members of a State recognized tribal community; or (3) at least 40 percent of the households have limited English proficiency.”

The Environmental Justice Law provides that any entity seeking to create or expand a facility located in close proximity to an overburdened community will have more stringent standards and application processes to conform with. Some of the facilities regulated include landfills, recycling facilities, solid waste facilities, medical waste facilities, and sewage treatment plants. Additions to the application process include submitting an Environmental Justice Impact Statement and a requirement to hold a public hearing within the overburdened community. N.J.S.A. § 13:1D-160. A notable heightened standard is the required consideration of the cumulative effects of the application “together with other environmental or public health stressors affecting the overburdened community” when considering an application for an addition or permit renewal for an existing facility. N.J.S.A. § 13:1D-160.4(d).

The Environmental Justice Law charges the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) with creating the rules and regulations that will implement its objectives. Shortly after Governor Murphy signed the bill into law in September 2020, the NJDEP held public comment period that just concluded mid-December. The survey provided during the comment period allowed members of the public to voice their opinions on a plethora of issues being discussed during the rulemaking process such as what should be included in an Environmental Justice Impact Statement and what public health impacts should be considered in the application process.

The full survey provided by the NJDEP can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WVPTXRG. The statute also required the NJDEP to produce a list of “overburdened communities” within 120 days of enactment, which fell on Saturday January 16, 2021. That list can be found here: https://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/communities.html. Read the full text of the new law here: https://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/docs/ej-law.pdf.

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