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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Office of Environmental Justice
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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Office of
Environmental Justice

401 East State Street
7th floor East Wing
Mail Code: 402
Trenton, NJ 08625
PH: (609) 633-0747
FX: (609) 984-3962

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 environmental priorities.

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 facilities.

What is Environmental Justice?

EPA defines Environmental Justice (EJ) as the:

" fair 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 economic viability.

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 are:

  • Identify, understand, and communicate local environment concerns to community members, county, state and federal officials.
  • 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 departments.
  • 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 are considered.
  • Establish overlay zones that impose additional requirements for environmental protection.
  • 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 control
  • 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 plans
  • 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.

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Last Updated: July 5, 2018