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Environmental Justice Should Be Core Principle of Murphy Administration

Transition team urges administration to address pollution and contamination as they affect poor urban communities, particularly communities of color

camden pollution

The Murphy administration needs to focus on the disproportionate impacts of pollution and contamination on poor urban communities, according to a transition team report for Gov. Phil Murphy.

The 15-page environmental and energy report suggests that addressing the environmental-justice disparities in low-income and mostly communities of color ought to be promoted as a core principle of the new administration, one that is reflected across all departments and programs.

The recommendation, one of four overarching priorities identified by the transition team, calls for reducing the air and water pollution burdening those communities, and proposes that a substantial portion of the new funding on its way be dedicated to these initiatives.

The other priorities mostly reflect Murphy's environmental platform during his successful gubernatorial campaign: promoting an aggressive clean-energy agenda; confronting the perils associated with climate change; and protecting the state's natural and water resources.

Throughout the report, there is recurring criticism of the Christie administration -lamenting the loss of New Jersey's leadership on clean-energy issues, its failure to combat climate change, and the rollback of laws safeguarding the environment.

Environmental justice

On the issue of environmental justice, the report notes low-income communities too often have not enjoyed the gains that have taken place in environmental protection and public health enacted since the advent of a wave of such laws in the 1970s.

"There's been a lot of lip service by all of the past administrations to environmental justice,'' said Michael Catania, a member of the transition team and former deputy commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection. "If you have a new project that is going to increase pollution, Newark and Camden are going to take it on the chin every time.''

Ed Potosnak, another transition member and executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, agreed. "For environmental-justice communities, there's a lot of ground to be made up for what we have lost during the last eight years,'' he said.

Within the first 100 days, the governor should direct state agencies to develop a plan for reducing air emissions in urban areas where pollution levels are the highest and most often violate national healthy air-quality standards. The plan should specifically address problems at New Jersey ports, and include steps to proceed with the electrification of vehicles, equipment, and ships there.

The latter recommendation has long been a top priority of local communities and environmental groups, but a proposal to reduce emissions from diesel engines was scaled back in recent years. The governor should push for increased funding for such efforts from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Tapping into funds from RGGI

To help fund these initiatives, the report suggested tapping into funds coming back to New Jersey for rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, where it is one of nine states in the Northeast working to reduce power plant pollution. It also suggested using money from a settlement with Volkswagen stemming from cheating on emissions standards. The state is expected to receive about $140 million from the latter settlement.

The report also recommended the state devote more emphasis and resources to reducing childhood exposure to lead poisoning. Thousands of kids in urban communities have elevated levels of lead in their blood, mostly from exposure to lead paint in older housing, but others from lead in drinking water.

In some areas identified as priorities by the transition team, steps already are underway to address those issues. Bills to rejoin RGGI, and to participate with other states on the U.S. Climate Alliance were voted out of a legislative committee last week.

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to issue an executive order to have New Jersey rejoin RGGI sometime this week, perhaps as early as today.

The report also recommended the state resume pursuing pollution lawsuits against companies that damage natural resources. The Christie administration failed to initiate any new natural-resources damage suits during its two terms, although it did settle claims from previous actions.

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