Environmental Regulatory Conference

Enviro Justice Law Implementation

For businesses that want to expand or build a new facility in an overburdened community (OBC), as described in New Jersey’s Environmental Justice (EJ) law, the path to take is one of preparation, transparency, and strong communications with community stakeholders. This was the consensus of panelists during a discussion on implementing the EJ rule at yesterday’s Environmental Regulatory Conference hosted by NJBIA and held at the Delta Hotels by Woodbridge Marriott in Iselin.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Sept. 18, 2020, with the final rule published by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on April 17, 2023, authorizes the DEP to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on communities that disproportionately have been negatively impacted by their operations.

An OBC is defined as any community where 35% of the households qualify as low-income, according to the U.S. Census, 40% of households are minority, or 40% of households have limited English proficiency.

Sean Moriarty, strategic consultant at Archer Public Affairs, explained the EJ law requires a Disproportionate Impact Analysis of a facility’s contributions to the environmental and public health conditions of an OBC to determine whether the impact is disproportionate when compared to non-overburdened communities (non-OBCs). “So, it is looking at the contributions of a specific facility to environmental public health stressors. That is the core of the analysis,” Moriarty said.

He explained there is a four-step Environmental Justice Impact Statement (EJIS) process reviewed by the DEP that includes: first, identifying baseline environmental and public health conditions in the host OBC v. a non-OBC; second, a facility-wide assessment of the contributions of stressors and identification of control measures to avoid, and where not possible, minimizing contributions to the stressors; third, where the host community is already subject to adverse cumulative stressors, or where a facility will create adverse cumulative stressors, the applicant must submit supplemental information (more detailed information on site conditions); and fourth, the conducting of a public hearing in the OBC presenting the EJIS. This includes a 60-day public notice under community a specific engagement plan.

Tony Bianchini, principal consultant, strategic communications and stakeholder engagement at Environmental Resource Management (ERM), explained that after the DEP approves the EJIS, community distribution includes: printing a public notice in an English-language newspaper and a secondary language newspaper (the predominant secondary language of the community), mailing certified letters to residents, property owners, tenants, and easement holders who live within 200 feet of the property; and posting a sign (again in English and the secondary language) in a location that is prominent and visible to members of the community to let them know about the information session and public comment period.

Bianchini said the public information session must be conducted in-person and virtually, and that there is a 90-day public comment period (60 days before the public session and 30 days after).

He said the public should not be feared and that the business’ presentation should focus on positive attributes of the project to balance any negative views.

Brittany Haley-Addison, M.S., manager of community outreach at Reworld (formerly Covanta), explained that the company, with a major facility in Camden, conducts pre-EJ hearings where it may go to different sections of the city. “We talk to council members, the mayor, the school district, county commissioners, the DEP, the State Legislature, the Camden Collaborative … all our partners who are interested in our information, but who can also relay this information to other partners,” she says.

On public hearing best practices, she said it is important that people have easy access to the location, that it is held at an appropriate time, that there is a hybrid option, and that it is accessible to the hearing impaired.

Two-way communication is important, as Haley-Addison explained it is vital “to get everyone’s point of view. … We also try to make sure we speak with everyone on their technical level and in the language they prefer.”

Supporting the community is also important in this arena, and Reworld does so by hiring locally, reaching out to high school and trade school students to develop a workforce pipeline, creating job opportunities for veterans, offering internships and scholarships, holding job fairs, and supporting children and seniors in the community.

“Once they see that we actually want to support the community and hire locally, they tell the best stories [about the company],” Haley-Addison said.

Giving a more candid view of the EJ hearing process, Chris Whitehead, senior environmental justice consultant at Worley, said, “No one is asking [anyone] to change their mind. Frankly, it would be arrogant if you thought you could. … Some of these stakeholders are passionate.”

He advised businesses to be objective, proactive, and write their own narrative with the community. “The EJ law isn’t going anywhere, but as you talk to communities, they are open to listening, learning and knowing what the process is. The more you are willing to be transparent and open, the more you build trust over time. It’s not going to change minds, but you’re just trying to be a good neighbor.”

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