Story at a glance

  • Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that would require more oversight into developing pollution centers in certain communities.
  • This follows an outcry for environmental justice alongside racial justice.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a stalled environmental justice bill into law on Friday that aims to halt the development of new pollution centers like sewage treatment plants, landfills, transfer stations, scrap metal facilities and medical waste incinerators in low-income communities, Reuters reports.

The move comes amid a push for environmental justice that affects communities of color as new data emerges showing historically marginalized populations, such as Black and Hispanic Americans, living in areas with higher concentrations of pollution.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with Black and Hispanic Americans facing higher death and hospitalization rates than their white counterparts, scientific literature has focused on how the exposure to more air pollutants worsens that outcome for a severe illness. 


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Speaking with reporters, Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former Environmental Protection Agency\ official in the Obama administration, said that low-income neighborhoods with large immigrant and minority communities are subject to zoning practices that allow high-polluting industries to establish business nearby. Decades of socioeconomic redlining has forced people of color into less desirable living areas with higher volumes of pollution.

“Folks don’t by accident end up in these communities,” Ali said. “We have traditionally pushed people into certain areas, or we’ve chosen those areas that we don’t place a lot of value on to put certain things.”

Per a press release issued by Murphy’s office, the bill will monitor the permit requests of “certain facilities on overburdened communities.”

An overburdened community, in this case, is defined as any community where 35 percent of the households qualify as low-income per the U.S. Census, 40 percent of households are minority-owned, or 40 percent of the households in the community have limited English proficiency. 

In New Jersey alone, there are reportedly 310 municipalities that could qualify. 

“Today we are sending a clear message that we will longer allow Black and Brown communities in our state to be dumping grounds, where access to clean air and clean water are overlooked,” Murphy said in a statement. “This action is a historic step to ensure that true community input and collaboration will factor into decisions that have a cumulative impact for years to come. I’m incredibly proud that New Jersey is now home to the strongest environmental justice law in the nation.”

Reuters notes that some state business leaders have objected to the law, stating it could hinder economic development.

Ray Cantor, the vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, wrote in an opinion piece earlier that “The problem with (bill) S-232 is many of its requirements range between extremely onerous to simply unattainable.”


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Published on Sep 18, 2020