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Focusing on Environmental Justice Around Juneteenth: New Jersey


Image Courtesy of Ricardo Levins Morales

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) glossary defines overburdened communities as minority, low-income, tribal, or indigenous groups in the United States that potentially experience disproportionate environmental harms and risks. Within New Jersey’s 8.85 million people, nearly 50% of the residents live in overburdened communities. Many of these overburdened communities exist in South Jersey in major cities such as Trenton and Camden. In order to alleviate such a large issue affecting millions of New Jersey residents, NJ lawmakers created the Environmental Justice Law that was signed by governor Phil Murphy in September 2020.


The Environmental Justice Law is comprised of two parts:

  • Defines which circumstances would consider different block groups of New Jersey to be labeled “overburdened communities”.

  • Calls on the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to evaluate facilities that could potentially have disproportionate harmful effects on minority groups living in overburdened areas.


Although the new law is a step in the right direction for the environmental justice cause, there is still a great amount of confusion on what the law will specifically address in overburdened communities. Starting with the evaluation process for the facilities. There are many different facilities that could affect the environmental issues within the South Jersey region, whether they are electrical facilities, waste incinerators, or landfills. Evaluating all of the facilities and researching how much of a harmful effect each facility has on overburdened communities is time consuming and not cost effective. Without a solid outline on which facilities have the most harmful environmental effects on South Jersey overburdened communities, this law will not be as effective as it needs to be.


Another issue arises when considering the regulations that will be placed on facilities that are deemed to have harmful environmental effects on overburdened communities. Many of the evaluations and regulations for these facilities to obtain or keep their permits to continue functioning are being done on a case by case basis by the NJDEP. This makes it harder for facilities to follow New Jersey permit laws, and more importantly, makes it harder for New Jersey residents to see how the law directly helps them. With regulations changing based on each different facility, residents won’t be able to clearly see what environmental concerns the law is alleviating. In the end, The Environmental Justice Law has the potential to make a significant positive change for environmental justice all over New Jersey. The law just needs a little bit of fine tuning before it has a real effect on all overburdened communities.



 

References


Kummer, Frank. “Proposed N.J. Rule Says Half of Neighborhoods Are Overburdened.” Governing, Governing, 6 June 2022, https://www.governing.com/community/proposed-n-j-rule-says-half-of-neighborhoods-are-overburdened.


Quinn, Megan. “How New Jersey's Environmental Justice Law Is Beginning to Affect Operators around the Country.” Waste Dive, 7 June 2022, https://www.wastedive.com/news/how-new-jerseys-environmental-justice-law-is-beginning-to-affect-operators/624917/.


Office of Environmental Justice. “Official Site of the State of New Jersey.” NJDEP | Environmental Justice | What Are Overburdened Communities (OBC)?, https://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/communities.html.


“Official Site of the State of New Jersey.” NJDEP | Environmental Justice | Environmental Justice Law, Rules and Policy, https://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/policy.html.

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