Environmental Justice in New Jersey in 2020
Last year we reported on the Murphy Administration’s efforts in carrying out the 2018 Executive Order which directed the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to develop guidance “for all Executive branch departments and agencies for the consideration of Environmental Justice in implementing their statutory and regulatory responsibilities.” Exec. Order No. 23 (Apr. 20, 2018), 50 N.J.R. 1241(b) (May 21, 2018). Although it was expected that the draft guidance would be finalized in 2019, this was not the case. NJDEP held draft guidance document listening sessions in the early months of last year and public comments were accepted on the draft until March 22. As of this date, however, the guidance document remains in draft and there are no updates on the Office of Environmental Justice’s website.
Efforts to address Environmental Justice via legislative action have similarly stalled since early 2019. Bill S-1700, which imposed obligations on DEP with respect to “burdened communities,” was introduced into the Senate and referred to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee in 2018. The bill, as amended, was approved by the Environment and Energy Committee and sent to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in late January 2019. Since that time, however, the bill has not moved so its fate will depend on whether it is reintroduced in the next legislative session.
While agency and legislative action stalled in 2019, on October 25 the Attorney General’s Office and NJDEP announced the filing of six environmental justice lawsuits involving sites in Newark, Trenton, East Orange, Kearny, and Camden, as discussed elsewhere in this Forecast.
Practitioners and industry members can expect to see a continued focus on environmental justice in New Jersey in 2020, but whether that will solely be through the initiation of additional litigation by the Murphy Administration or by agency or legislative action is unclear.