Communities of color and low-income communities bear a disproportionate share of health and environmental hazards that contribute to air, water, and quality of life degradation. This bill requires the state to incorporate environmental justice principles into policies and permitting practices to begin to address this issue of fundamental fairness.
In 2002, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued recommendations to develop an environmental justice program. While the DEC implemented a policy related to environmental justice and permitting in 2003, no action was taken on the group’s other recommendations, which included incorporating environmental justice into the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR), addressing Native American environmental justice issues, and assessing DEC enforcement efforts with regard to environmental justice.
In 2014, the University of Minnesota released a study that overlaid U.S. Census data with exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – linked to heart disease, lung cancer, asthma attacks, and preterm births – which is released by vehicles and power plants, showing that people of color are exposed to 46 percent more air pollution than non-whites. The study showed that the New York City / Newark metropolitan area leads the nation in the disparity of average NO2 concentration for nonwhites and whites (4.0 parts per billion). When accounting for the rest of New York State, the disparity grows to 9.2 parts per billion. Because NO2 is emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes, it is a good indicator of concentration of pollution and, thus, the environmental disparities that exist in New York State.
The time has come for the Legislature to act.
This bill incorporates environmental justice principles into New York State agencies’ decision-making processes, makes permanent the Environmental Justice Advisory Group within the DEC, and establishes an Environmental Justice Interagency Coordinating Council to report on the effectiveness and implementation of New York’s environmental justice policies within all state agencies whose actions may affect the environment.