EJ Issue to Watch: Governor Hochul Sitting on Passed Cumulative Impact Analysis Bill

This piece is part of our Stu­dent Blog Series, fea­tur­ing posts on cli­mate, clean ener­gy, and envi­ron­men­tal issues from the State Impact Center’s legal interns and oth­er stu­dents work­ing with the Center.

The pas­sage of New York’s cumu­la­tive impacts analy­sis bill (“Cumu­la­tive Impacts Bill”), New York Bill S8830/A2103D, was her­ald­ed by envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice groups as ground­break­ing after the state’s leg­is­la­ture vot­ed for its enact­ment at the end of April 2022. The bill, not yet signed by Gov­er­nor Hochul, would amend the State Envi­ron­men­tal Qual­i­ty Review Act (“SEQRA”)1 (i) to require analy­sis of a project’s cumu­la­tive impacts on Dis­ad­van­taged Com­mu­ni­ties”2 before a per­mit3 is approved or renewed, and (ii) to pro­hib­it the approval or renew­al of a project which may cause or con­tribute to, either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, a dis­pro­por­tion­ate or inequitable or both dis­pro­por­tion­ate and inequitable bur­den on a dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ty.”4 The Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act’s reg­u­la­tions state that cumu­la­tive impacts are the effects on the envi­ron­ment that result from the incre­men­tal effects of [indi­vid­ual] action[s] when added to the effects of oth­er past, present, and rea­son­ably fore­see­able actions….”5

New York’s Cumu­la­tive Impacts Bill requires respon­si­ble agen­cies to con­sid­er a pro­posed project’s poten­tial bur­den on a Dis­ad­van­taged Com­mu­ni­ty both when deter­min­ing if an Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment is nec­es­sary and as part of the Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment if one is required.6 The bill also tasks New York State Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion (“NYS­DEC”) with prepar­ing an exist­ing bur­den report”7 describ­ing the exist­ing pol­lu­tion bur­den in a Dis­ad­van­taged Com­mu­ni­ty. NYS­DEC must con­sid­er such report when deter­min­ing whether a project will direct­ly or indi­rect­ly cause a dis­pro­por­tion­ate and/​or inequitable bur­den in the com­mu­ni­ty.8

Most impor­tant­ly, this bill strength­ens SEQRA to pro­hib­it NYS­DEC from approv­ing any per­mit or renew­al if the project may exac­er­bate the inequitable and/​or dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den that an affect­ed Dis­ad­van­taged Com­mu­ni­ty car­ries.9 SEQRA gen­er­al­ly requires an eval­u­a­tion of a project’s poten­tial sig­nif­i­cant impacts. How­ev­er, with­out the pro­posed amend­ments, SEQRA does not explic­it­ly pro­hib­it the approval or renew­al of per­mits for projects that impose addi­tion­al inequitable/​disproportionate envi­ron­men­tal bur­dens on a Dis­ad­van­taged Community.

There is one anal­o­gous statute in a dif­fer­ent state. New Jersey’s Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Law of 2020 (“EJ Law”) sim­i­lar­ly requires an assess­ment of the poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic health stres­sors that would result if a per­mit10 is approved or renewed in what the state defines as an Over­bur­dened Com­mu­ni­ty.”11 The analy­sis cul­mi­nates in an Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Impact State­ment, which must be pub­lished to pro­vide an affect­ed Over­bur­dened Com­mu­ni­ty an oppor­tu­ni­ty to weigh in on the permitting/​renewal deci­sion. New Jersey’s Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion recent­ly issued a pro­pos­al for reg­u­la­tions imple­ment­ing the statute. (See the June 6, 2022, Pro­posed Rule.)

There are a cou­ple sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between the two statutes. First, in con­trast to the New York bill, under New Jersey’s EJ Law, the NJ DEP is not autho­rized to deny a per­mit renew­al on the basis of cumu­la­tive impacts, but can impose spe­cif­ic con­di­tions to min­i­mize impacts in the over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ty.” New York’s bill, on the oth­er hand, pro­hibits the renew­al of any such per­mits that may impose an addi­tion­al inequitable and/​or dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den on a Dis­ad­van­taged Com­mu­ni­ty.12

In anoth­er con­trast­ing point, New Jersey’s EJ Law pro­vides that the NJ DEP shall deny a per­mit for a new facil­i­ty if it would cause or con­tribute to the adverse cumu­la­tive” impacts on an over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ty unless the depart­ment finds the new facil­i­ty will serve a com­pelling pub­lic inter­est in the com­mu­ni­ty where it’s to be locat­ed,” in which case a per­mit may be approved with con­di­tions to pro­tect pub­lic health.13 The lan­guage of New York’s Cumu­la­tive Impacts Bill does not include a sim­i­lar com­pelling pub­lic inter­est” excep­tion, either for new facil­i­ty per­mits or for per­mit renewals. The com­pelling pub­lic inter­est excep­tion requires NJ DEP to con­sid­er whether the com­mu­ni­ty sup­ports the pro­posed facil­i­ty per­mit with­out con­sid­er­ing eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits or tax rev­enue.” Some find the exclu­sion of an eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits con­sid­er­a­tion to be con­tra­dic­to­ry, how­ev­er, since one of the stres­sors that the EJ Law focus­es on is unem­ploy­ment, and the Over­bur­dened Com­mu­ni­ty might find the eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits of a pro­posed facil­i­ty, such as job cre­ation, to be an impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in the permitting/​renewal decision. 

Gov­er­nor Hochul has not signed New York’s Cumu­la­tive Impacts Bill, and – con­sid­er­ing that many facil­i­ties cur­rent­ly sit­ed in Dis­ad­van­taged Com­mu­ni­ties would be affect­ed by it – the bill is like­ly being dis­cussed between her office and stake­hold­ers. If Gov­er­nor Hochul does not sign the bill before the end of this year and before the start of the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the bill will have to be recon­sid­ered and passed by the leg­is­la­ture again dur­ing its ses­sion next year. Bri­ana Car­ba­jal from WE ACT for Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice, an orga­ni­za­tion­al leader and strong sup­port­er of the bill, explained in an inter­view that this past ses­sion, the bill passed with over­whelm­ing sup­port from both hous­es in the leg­is­la­ture. The advo­ca­cy group wants the Governor’s office to pri­or­i­tize this bill and the pro­tec­tions that it affords to Dis­ad­van­taged Com­mu­ni­ties by cod­i­fy­ing the bill into law before the end of this year.

States will need to con­duct a thor­ough analy­sis of how over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ties may be fur­ther sub­ject­ed to an inequitable dis­tri­b­u­tion of envi­ron­men­tal­ly impact­ful projects, and stem­ming the flow of these projects to these com­mu­ni­ties is a cru­cial piece of their envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice work. By address­ing the dis­pro­por­tion­ate pol­lu­tion and health bur­dens faced in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and low income com­mu­ni­ties, and pro­vid­ing mean­ing­ful road­blocks to addi­tion­al sit­ing inequities, New York can pave the way toward envi­ron­men­tal equi­ty in the state with this Cumu­la­tive Impacts Bill. 

  1. N.Y. Env’t Con­serv. Law § 80101− §8 – 0117 (McK­in­ney)
  2. “‘Dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties’ means com­mu­ni­ties that bear bur­dens of neg­a­tive pub­lic health effects, envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, impacts of cli­mate change, and pos­sess cer­tain socioe­co­nom­ic cri­te­ria, or com­prise high-con­cen­tra­tions of low- and mod­er­ate- income house­holds, as iden­ti­fied pur­suant to sec­tion 75 – 0111 of this arti­cle.” N.Y. Env’t Con­serv. Law § 75 – 0101 (McK­in­ney 2020)
  3. See N.Y. Env’t Con­serv. Law § 70 – 0105 (McK­in­ney 1986) (defin­ing per­mit”)
  4. S. 8830, § 7(3), 2021 – 2022 Leg., Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2022)
  5. 40 CFR 1508.1(g)(3)
  6. S. 8830, § 3 – 4, 2021 – 2022 Leg., Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2022)
  7. See S. 8830, § 8, 2021 – 2022 Leg., Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2022) (explain­ing the min­i­mum require­ments of an exist­ing bur­den report)
  8. See S. 8830, § 7(2), 2021 – 2022 Leg., Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2022)
  9. See S. 8830, § 7(3), 2021 – 2022 Leg., Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2022)
  10. See S. 8830, § 7(3), 2021 – 2022 Leg., Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2022)
  11. N. J. S. A. 13:1D-158 (defin­ing per­mit”)
  12. N.J.S.A. 13:1D-160; See also N. J. S. A. 13:1D-158 (defin­ing Over­bur­dened Com­mu­ni­ty”)
  13. N.J.S.A. 13:1D-160(3