Environmental justice organizations in New Jersey are mobilizing to prevent fossil fuel industries from expanding in low-income neighborhoods, which are disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution.
On Thursday, Aug. 24, EJ Communities Against Incineration will host a workshop in Camden titled “Liberation From Incineration,” where residents can learn about the harmful health impacts caused by incinerators and other facilities, such as fossil fuel power plants and superfund sites.
After New Jersey enacted an environmental justice law in 2020, predominantly Black and Hispanic cities like Camden, Newark, Trenton, and Atlantic City were designated as environmentally overburdened communities or OBCs.
Lower-income neighborhoods in suburban towns like Pemberton and Vineland also made the list. These areas tend to have more trash incinerators, sewage treatment centers, and other sources of pollution per capita than many other parts of the state, and some are located near major highways and airports.
“[Camden] gets everything nobody else wants,” said Angel Perez, co-executive director of the Center For Environmental Transformation in Camden. “We deserve the same thing that happens up the street from us, in communities that aren’t considered EJ (environmental justice) communities.”
Wednesday’s incineration workshop will take place at The Center For Environmental Transformation in Camden.
“We want to inform our communities about what’s here … and about alternatives, so they can actually have a conversation with their local council person, they can write to the governor and say, ‘hey, our community no longer wants this here,’” Perez said.
The 2020 law, requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, or NJDEP, to evaluate the environmental and public health stressors of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing permit applications.
Industrial facilities that wish to apply for new or expanded permits, or permit renewal, in OBCs would first need to submit an environmental health impact statement with the state that “assess the potential environmental and public health stressors associated with a proposed new or expanded” project, according to the Legislature.
They would also need to host a public meeting, where residents and other community stakeholders can provide feedback and discuss environmental and public health concerns, and announce the meeting in two local newspapers, including one non-English language newspaper where applicable, at least 60 days in advance.
NJDEP would be required to deny permits for new facilities that would pose a significant health threat to overburdened communities. Essentially, the state would have more power to prevent new facilities from springing up in places that already have too many pollutants.
The department has until the end of the year to fully implement rules and regulations regarding the new law. Residents have until Sept. 4 to provide public comment.
“We need to end the practice of locating businesses on top of other polluting businesses. And the environmental justice law is the tool for policymakers and regulatory agencies to do just that,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
“There are a lot of proposals that come forward and [companies] try to place them, in places where they think the community wouldn’t be able to have the political power, voice, the financial ability, through lawyers and other means of communication, to stop it in its tracks,” Potosnak said.
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