Communities of color and low-income communities often bear a disproportionate share of health and environmental hazards, contributing to poor air and water, and blighted communities. This bill requires the state to incorporate environmental justice principles into policies and permitting practices to begin to address these issues of fundamental fairness and equity.
In 2002, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued recommendations to develop an environmental justice program. The DEC implemented a policy related to environmental justice and permitting in 2003, which resulted in 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. However, these measures did not go far enough.
In 2014, the University of Minnesota released a study showing that people of color are exposed to 46 percent more air pollution than non-whites. In particular the study showed that the exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations in New York City / Newark metropolitan area leads the nation in the disparity 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. NO2 is emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes and linked to heart disease, lung cancer, asthma attacks, and preterm births. NO2 is a good overall indicator of pollution concentrations and, thus, the environmental disparities that exist in New York State.
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.