By Ray Cantor, NJBIA Deputy Chief Government Affairs Officer On Sep 29, 2022
Sometimes the road paved with good intentions can lead to a blind alley. Such is the path for New Jersey’s landmark 2020 environmental justice (EJ) law, which places the most stringent requirements in the nation on businesses applying to expand a facility, construct a new one, or renew a permit in communities defined as overburdened. The state Department of Environmental Protection held four public hearings over the summer on its 153-page draft EJ rule proposal to implement the law. NJBIA provided comments at each and raised these concerns:
Determining Disproportionate Impact. By using overly broad stressors, the EJ rule would deem more than 90% of overburdened communities (OBCs) as disproportionately impacted. Given that there are over 300 municipalities with one or more OBCs comprising two-thirds of the state’s population, and that much of the rest of the state is environmentally restricted, this means most of the state’s developable land would be declared a disproportionally impacted OBC. While certain areas deserve additional protection, there needs to be balance. We support changes that would reduce the disproportionate findings from 90% to 50%.
Economic Stressors.The proposal does not account for the jobs and positive economic impacts that facilities bring. Some facilities built in truly overburdened communities may need to do more. However, when DEP reviews facilities whose operations meet the highest environmental standards, it should consider the economic benefits along with any perceived negative impacts. For example, the EJ law uses income level as one of three criteria to determine if a community is overburdened – yet good jobs will disappear if a facility moves or closes, or new facilities are unable to get DEP permitting.
Renewal Provisions. The proposed rule would effectively deny permit renewals for existing facilities because of overly burdensome requirements. Businesses that have invested tens of millions of dollars in their facilities, met the highest environmental standards, and are even willing to do more to improve operations, would still face the loss of their permits. The EJ rule will likely cause significant economic harm to manufacturers and other businesses in New Jersey – as well as the thousands of people who depend on them for jobs. The proposal far exceeds what is required by law and what the DEP has deemed to be safe levels of emissions. The cost and time of meeting these requirements will undoubtedly influence business decisions on whether to continue operations in New Jersey.