How New Environmental Justice Law Sets Stage for Sweeping Nationwide Changes

A pioneering environmental justice law, which may serve as a framework for a national drive for environmental justice, will be the topic of an online panel discussion on Thursday, Sept. 2, from 10 a.m. to noon ET. The event is open to professionals in the field as well as the public.

The Zoom session, titled “New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law as a Potential National Model,” is co-sponsored by Enviro-Sciences (of Delaware), Inc., a multi-media international environmental consulting firm, and the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), an interdisciplinary organization dedicated to developing the highest standards of ethics and proficiency in the environmental professions.

The key aim of environmental justice is to ensure that everyone–regardless of race, income, or place of origin–benefits from an equal degree of protection from environmental hazards and that everyone has input into how those regulatory protections are developed.

Fighting for environmental justice is vital throughout the nation, but facilities with strong compliance histories should not be lumped in with the bad actors solely based on their geography, says Chris Whitehead, QEP, CESM, air practice leader at Enviro-Sciences Inc. (ESI) and moderator of the panel discussion. The most stringent controls should be reserved for the most egregious offenders, he asserts.

Citing New Jersey as an example, he notes that more than 300 municipalities in New Jersey alone (out of 565) could qualify as “overburdened.” That means these communities would continue to have facilities built within their borders that pose significant environmental hazards, had this landmark New Jersey law not been adopted. Using the New Jersey definition of “overburdened community,” the numbers are roughly proportional in other US states and particularly egregious in large cities like Boston, Washington, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles, though this issue is not limited to urban areas.

Under the New Jersey law, sponsored by one of the webinar’s featured speakers, New Jersey State Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), residents of overburdened communities now have an opportunity to voice their concerns on the siting and potential environmental impact of future projects. In addition, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is required to assess the environmental impacts to an area as a result of the project. For the first time, based on these anticipated impacts, the NJDEP is required to either deny permits or issue permit conditions to lessen potential impacts to the site.

During the two-hour panel discussion, national and state leaders dealing with this issue will examine the current environmental justice landscape, where the environmental justice movement will be five to 10 years from now, and if the New Jersey model–considered by many as the “gold standard”–can work nationally. Whitehead will moderate a panel of featured speakers, which includes, in addition to Senator Singleton:

* Matthew Tejada, director of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice

* Shawn LaTourette, NJ DEP Commissioner

* Sara Colangelo, director of the Environmental Justice Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center

Whitehead, who formatted this panel as a discussion, explains that “The federal government has their own environmental justice policies, but then each state government has the option to make a program stricter than EPA’s. New Jersey’s environmental justice law is an excellent example of that kind of initiative.”

Matthew Tejada, director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, points out, “The Biden-Harris Administration and EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan have mandated an unprecedented level of support for activities focused on advancing equity and justice across the federal government. Much of this important work follows the groundbreaking efforts of various states. New Jersey’s work to implement their new law is an exciting development, expanding the environmental justice horizon for everyone in the United States.”

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette adds, “Under Governor Murphy’s leadership, New Jersey has made an enduring commitment to equity and justice, which necessarily includes the determined pursuit of environmental justice on behalf of those long overburdened by pollution. Alongside partners in the New Jersey Legislature, the Murphy Administration enacted the most empowering environmental justice law in the country in September 2020 and, after a year of deep stakeholder engagement, DEP will soon propose the implementing regulations. In New Jersey, we are charting a new course for the future—with a stronger, more just environment at its center.”

The panelists will respond to questions from session participants–and from each other–during the webinar; questions placed in the chatbox will be answered at the end.

There is a fee for the webinar: NAEP members: $75;  NAEP student members: free; chapter members: $125;  and non-members: $140. To register for the webinar, go to https://naep.memberclicks.net/2021_september_webinar_registration#/.