Op-Ed: Will Christie’s Successor Block Trump’s Efforts to Dismantle EJ?

Laureen M. Boles | October 30, 2017 | Opinion
The New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance recognizes that communities of color and low-income communities are typically overburdened by environmental pollution

Laureen M. Boles
Whoever succeeds Gov. Chris Christie as New Jersey’s next governor will be standing in a metaphorical gorge between the Trump administration and New Jersey’s environmental justice (EJ) activists. The two sides are mirror images of each other, with regard to their opinions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its mission to protect the environment and human health. While Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator, is known for suing the EPA in an effort to dismantle environmental protection and increase profits, EJ activists are known for suing the EPA to demand greater enforcement and protection of human health.

The New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA), the statewide EJ organization, has developed numerous policy recommendations that are consistent with the EPA’s mission and intended to improve the environmental quality, public health, and wellbeing of residents in environmental justice communities: communities of color and low-income communities that are typically overburdened by disproportionate environmental pollution. The substantive areas these policies address include cumulative impacts, cross-media pollution, climate change, and energy security. The priority EJ actions we recommend include the following.

Environmental justice and cumulative impacts legislation

Ensure that any new development, or significant redevelopment, does not add to pollution burdens in communities already overburdened with pollution, especially EJ communities, by imposing a moratorium on state regulatory approval or funding on such development. Enact environmental justice and cumulative impacts legislation that will protect EJ and overburdened neighborhoods by decreasing existing levels of pollution while protecting them from additional pollution. The legislation should require the use of a cumulative impacts tool in environmental permitting, resource allocation, and other relevant state agency decision making. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP’s) nascent cumulative impacts screening tool should be used in an EJ and environmental screening of these neighborhoods. The legislation should require the creation of an interagency EJ task force that includes representation of EJ communities and state agencies such as NJDEP.

State Environmental Impact Assessment

Implement a state environmental-impact assessment law, modeled after the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Such legislation would improve government decision making by increasing transparency, information, and dialogue about the environmental and public-health impacts of large scale projects that impact air, water, and land. An example of a state-level environmental impact assessment law was enacted in California, the California Environmental Quality Review Act (CEQRA).

“Air pollution is one of the most serious environmental health threats in our state and almost certainly impacts EJ communities disproportionately. Fine particulate-matter air pollution has been estimated to cause approximately 200,000 premature deaths in the United States annually. This deadly pollutant is linked to cardiovascular disease and a variety of pulmonary disorders, including lung cancer, asthma, and decreased lung function in children. New Jersey is still not in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone.” – Dr. Ana Baptista, The New School

Climate-change mitigation and adaptation

Integrate EJ and equity directly into climate-change mitigation and adaptation policy. The NJEJA strongly favors the use of a regulatory system over market mechanisms such as carbon trading and a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. New Jersey should institute mandatory emissions reductions for regulated polluting facilities located in EJ communities through the Global Warming Response Act and not rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Mandatory GHG emissions reductions would improve the health of EJ communities because it would also ensure emissions reductions of locally harmful co-pollutants, such as fine particulate matter and its precursors.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Ensure that energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) are assessable to EJ communities and that members of these communities are involved in the full range of research, educational, and economic opportunities connected to these growing energy fields. The state’s efforts in this area should include dedicated public funding directly supporting the development of EE and RE programs in New Jersey EJ communities. Part of this funding should come from a dedicated portion of New Jersey’s Clean Energy Fund with funds derived from the societal benefits charge.

“Any type of climate-change policy, including regulations and market mechanisms, should institute mandatory emissions reductions for regulated polluting facilities located in EJ communities. Implementing this type of policy mechanism would immediately make climate change mitigation policy more relevant to the health of these communities and therefore more politically relevant to community residents. Not implementing this type of policy mechanism would mean that New Jersey and our nation would miss an important opportunity to help EJ communities that may not come again. — Dr. Nicky Sheats, Thomas Edison State University

The NJEJA urges the succeeding governor to conduct meaningful engagement in EJ communities; specifically, New Jersey EJ policy should be developed with the meaningful input of residents from EJ communities, and the organizations that serve them. Meaningful engagement may include 1) public meetings with residents and with social justice, community, and EJ organizations prior to the development of such policies; 2) public hearings in EJ communities after draft policies have been developed so that community members may provide comments on said draft policies; 3) an electronic platform that contains information on EJ and EJ policies; and 4) a telephone hotline on which New Jersey residents may broach EJ concerns. In conclusion, the NJEJA urges the next governor to support implementation of the aforementioned recommendations, and looks forward to working closely with that governor to ensure environmental justice for New Jersey communities.