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Various studies show communities of color and low-income
communities are exposed to a disproportionate number of environmental hazards.
To help rectify
environmental inequities, the DEP launched an environmental justice program
to ensure fair treatment for people of all races, cultures, and incomes,
in the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws,
regulations and policies. Environmental justice issues are among the DEP’s
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s
(DEP) Environmental Justice Program encourages community stakeholders
to improve the quality
of life for those who live and work in our developed cities and suburbs.
Environmental justice initiatives seek to engage and empower local municipal
officials and concerned citizens to participate in environmental decision
making in all levels of government.
Environmental justice initiatives can help municipalities
effectively address a host of concerns that are unique to New Jersey’s cities
and older suburbs. Once thriving industrial centers, many cities and older
suburbs today face significant challenges to development and to environmental
protection. Massive factories now stand idle, abandoned on land contaminated
by industry. Pristine open space is limited, leaving little room for parks
and preservation. And while population growth has shifted away from cities
and into new suburbs, older municipalities, struggling to maintain tax
ratables, are often forced to accept polluting industries just to increase
the community’s tax base.
Under the leadership of Gov. James E. McGreevey, New Jersey is focused
on smart growth initiatives that will revitalize densely populated cities
and older, developed suburbs to make these communities cleaner, healthier
places to live, work and raise families. These municipalities are equipped
with the infrastructure to support growth and a wide array of benefits
including easy access to major metropolitan areas, ports, affordable housing,
public transportation, cultural venues, government agencies and health
is Environmental Justice?
EPA defines Environmental
Justice (EJ) as the:
treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless
of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to
the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental
laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that
no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic
group, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative
environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal,
and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state,
local, and tribal programs and policies."
Implementing environmental justice locally
New Jersey’s unique system of home rule enables communities to chart
their own course for development, and environmental decisions at the local
level are increasingly important to every community. Using environmental
justice as a framework, municipal officials can strategically address local
environmental concerns. Implementing a local environmental justice program
rarely requires additional resources. In fact, many communities already
have the tools to begin considering environmental decisions that often
impact the quality of life for community members and the municipality’s
In July 2003, the National
Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) released the third of its
reports on environmental justice, entitled “Addressing
Community Concerns: How Environmental Justice Relates to Land Use Planning
and Zoning.” (pdf) In the report, NAPA recommends several ways
local officials can implement environmental justice locally. Strategies
- Identify, understand, and communicate local
environment concerns to community members, county, state and federal
- Understand which municipal entities have authority to address environmental
issues, such as members of the city council, zoning board, housing
authority, environmental commission, school board, and the solid waste and recycling
- Review local policies and regulations to find areas in which public participation
can be increased.
- Collaborate with county, regional, state and federal levels of government
to respond to environmental justice concerns.
- Eliminate existing land uses that present public health and environmental
hazards, and adopt flexible zoning techniques.
- Share information and work with other municipal departments to ensure
responses to environmental justice issues are effective.
- Support programs that educate the community and youth about the importance
of protecting and preserving the environment.
- Invite residents, including minorities and low-income community members,
to participate in planning and zoning decisions to ensure their concerns
- Establish overlay zones that impose additional requirements for environmental
- Train municipal staff on environmental justice concerns.
- Use Geographical Information System (GIS) technology
to understand your municipality’s environmental assets and liabilities.
- Take advantage of DEP’s resources to help
ensure protection of public health and the environment in your community.
Taking action on environmental concerns
Achieving environmental justice hinges on identifying and correcting environmental
concerns in your community. Municipal officials can take action to:
- Improve controls on existing industrial facilities,
including zoning regulations, hours of operation, truck routes, noise
- Identify priority areas for brownfields redevelopment
- Create opportunities for tree planting
- Understand watershed issues and their relationship to nearby municipalities
- Develop plans for open space/park development
- Create incentives for using mass transit
- Make road network improvements
- Understand and collect data on health issues
- Facilitate environmental infrastructure improvements such as lead line
replacement in water distribution systems
- Establish environmental authorities or commissions to implement action
- Develop community master plans
Resources for environmental justice
The following are a list of resources that may be helpful for county and
municipal officials. Be sure to visit the Environmental Justice Resources
section of this website.