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Senate Advances Singleton, Weinberg Environmental Justice Bill

Trenton – The Senate advanced legislation today that authorizes the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain polluting facilities on “overburdened communities” when reviewing permit applications. The bill is sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen.)

Under the bill, residents of communities designated “overburdened” would be given an opportunity to voice their concerns during public hearings on the siting of future projects and would require the DEP to assess the environmental impact to the area. There are approximately 310 municipalities in New Jersey that have “overburdened communities.”

It’s no secret that poor, urban, and minority communities have been oversaturated with toxic facilities, and they have never had a real voice in determining whether these businesses and institutions were acceptable,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “For generations, these communities have suffered from the adverse health effects of the environmental degradation of their neighborhoods. By tackling this issue head on, New Jersey has an opportunity to send a clear message that everyone – regardless of their zip code, income, or race – deserves the right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, and to live free of toxic pollutants.”

“For decades, our poor and minority residents were more exposed to pollution in urban areas. This has caused significant, multi-generational and chronic health problems among these communities that just don’t exist in wealthier, less polluted communities,” said Senator Weinberg. “To address the problem of over pollution in poor, urban communities, the important first step is to figure out which communities, exactly, have been the most impacted.”

There are several criteria the DEP would use in assessing what qualifies as an “overburdened community.” For instance, at least 35 percent of the households must qualify as low-income households. At least 40 percent of the residents must identify as minority or as members of a tribal community, or at least 40 percent of the households would have limited English proficiency. To qualify, the community must also house major sources of air pollution, such as power plants, sewage-treatment facilities, incinerators or landfills.

The bill, S-232, was released from the Senate by a vote of 22-14-4.