On June 19, 2020, Governor Murphy announced his support for proposed legislation that would require the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), and permit applicants, to take additional steps prior to permits being issued for new or expanded facilities under a wide variety of state environmental statutes.
The proposed legislation, which aims to protect those communities that historically have been most impacted by pollution from industrial and related activities, would require the NJDEP to publish and maintain a list of those communities determined to be “overburdened.” In the proposed legislation, “overburdened community” is defined as:
“any census block group, as determined in accordance with the most recent United States Census, in which at least one half of the households qualify as low income households, and either: (1) at least 40 percent of the residents of the census block group identify as Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino, or as members of a State-recognized tribal community; or (2) at least 40 percent of the households in the census block group have limited English proficiency.”
Prior to approval of covered permit applications, an applicant would be required to assess and prepare an environmental impact statement to outline both the existing environmental and health stressors already borne by the relevant community, as well as any additional impacts associated or anticipated with the permit application. The impact statement will be transmitted to both the NJDEP and the local governing body for purposes of holding a public hearing on the potential health risks and environmental impacts of the proposed new or expanded facility. Local residents will be given the opportunity to ask questions and comment on the proposed activity, which testimony and comments must be evaluated by NJDEP prior to granting a permit.
There are currently approximately 310 municipalities in the state of New Jersey (out of 565) that contain communities meeting the definition of “overburdened.” Under the proposed legislation, the NJDEP may deny a permit application if it determines that approval would result in a disproportionate impact to the overburdened community when compared to the impact and risk borne by other communities in the State.
The bill is currently before the state Senate budget committee, having been passed out of the Senate environmental and energy committee. An identical bill in the state assembly has yet to have a hearing.