New York Governor Signs Environmental Justice Act to Reduce Cumulative Impacts of Pollution

Some operators of waste and recycling facilities applying for certain permits in New York will have to consider a facility’s cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities as part of the environmental permitting process now that Governor Kathy Hochul has signed into law. S8830. It will come into force in June.

Some permits or permit renewals already required applicants to complete an environmental impact statement, but the new law updates the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act to require that such statements specify whether a project “may cause or increase a disproportionate or inequitable pollution burden” on disadvantaged people. communities. The law will also require the Department of Environmental Conservation to assess the existing pollution problems of these communities and prepare a report. The law uses the state’s draft definition of “disadvantaged communities” created as part of New York’s climate law.

Environmental group WE ACT for Environmental Justice called the law “landmark legislation to address environmental racism,” saying disadvantaged communities are more susceptible to cumulative impacts, often because those residents live in areas where multiple industries operate in conjunction. same time.

The sponsors said in the bill’s summary that the law seeks to reverse “the inequitable pattern of siting polluting facilities in disadvantaged communities.” Previous regulations did not specifically consider the cumulative impacts of pollution when approving certain facilities, which, according to WE ACT, amounted to “treating them as if they were the only source of pollution that residents will have to endure” .

Policy experts believe that other such bills may soon be introduced in other states. New Jersey’s EJ law, passed in 2020, also requires some facility operators to consider EJ impacts when applying for permits, and many in the waste industry consider it the strongest EJ law. notable and most detailed in the country.

According to an assessment of the bill by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, Rhode Island and Illinois are other states that have recently considered legislation to address cumulative impacts. California passed legislation in 2022 to create an office of environmental justice within CalRecycle.

Activists in New York hope now have more strength to fight pollution in their neighborhoods, but codifying environmental justice efforts into state law is just one step, the state senator said. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who sponsored the bill. “Our words are worth only our actions,” she said in a statement.

Last week, the US EPA also recognized the importance of measuring and regulating cumulative impacts. It released an update to its legal tools guide to describe how the agency can identify, measure and regulate the cumulative impacts of pollutants in air, water and waste management programs. The EPA is also disbursing $100 million in funding for EE initiatives through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Addressing cumulative impacts is an important part of the Biden administration’s comprehensive environmental justice plan, the EPA said in a press release this week, because it recognizes how much exposure combined to a range of ” Environmental stressors can increase a community’s vulnerability to health and environmental risks. , particularly “underserved populations, including communities of color, Indigenous peoples, and low-income communities.”

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