In September of 2020 the New Jersey legislature took a major step towards rectifying environmental injustice in the Garden State. In true New Jersey fashion, however, the solution comes with new regulatory hurdles for developers and other groups looking to invest in New Jersey. Here is what developers need to know about New Jersey’s environmental justice legislation to ensure their projects can move forward in compliance with the new regulations.
“N.J.S.A. 13:1D-157” or New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law, is a well-intentioned piece of legislation. It states that “New Jersey’s low-income communities and communities of color have been historically subjected to a disproportionately high number of environmental and public health stressors, including pollution from mobile sources, as well as numerous industrial, commercial, and governmental stationary sources.” These overburdened and disadvantaged communities have traditionally lacked the voice, means, and recourse to effectively oppose these development projects being built in their neighborhoods. New Jersey’s new environmental justice legislation looks to remedy this situation through transparency, public engagement, and eventually standardized regulations on permitting.
When New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law into effect, the New Jersey legislature essentially granted the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) the legal authority to regulate permits based on environmental justice metrics. The specific regulations, however, were not defined. The process of defining those regulations included a public comment period where stakeholders could comment and provide feedback to help shape a set of regulations that best fit New Jersey and the goal of this initiative. The public comment period ended on September 4th, 2022.
New Jersey’s environmental justice law defines an overburdened community by a number of metrics. These include having a minimum of 35 percent of the households qualify as low-income households, having at least 40 percent minority residents or members of a State recognized tribal community, or having at least 40 percent of the households with limited English proficiency.
While the final NJDEP regulations for New Jersey’s new environmental justice law are not defined yet, the law has already changed the permitting process. Under the law, before you can obtain a permit that will increase an environmental stressor in an area considered overburdened, you now need to inform the community about your request. This allows residents the opportunity to have their voice heard and considered before a permit is granted. The permit may then be altered or denied based on public feedback before being granted.
In September 2021, the NJDEP Commissioner signed Administrative Order (AO2021-25) outlining the NJDEP’s expectations for applications subject to the Environmental Justice Act, until the regulations are adopted. It requires relevant permit applicants to hold a public information session with at least 30 days advanced notice to present the project summary and receive comment. After that there is a required written public comment period of no less than 60 days to provide opportunity for interested parties to provide feedback on the project.
With the public comment period ending on Sept 4th, we now await the NJDEP’s response to the comments received and issuance of the final regulations. Until then one thing is immediately clear; if you are planning on getting a permit for a new or expanded facility or renewing existing major source permit in a neighborhood that is considered overburdened, you are going to need the help of an environmental professional. An environmental services professional can help you navigate these new requirements, as well as the existing NJDEP air permitting regulations.
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