EJ Statutes Grow at the State Level

Sev­er­al states have start­ed to address the dis­pro­por­tion­ate and inequitable effects that their low-income and minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties have long faced through new statutes that impose per­mit­ting lim­its or enshrine addi­tion­al envi­ron­men­tal review require­ments. It is time for a roundup of these efforts. 


Passed in 2016, SB 1000 requires Cal­i­for­nia local­i­ties to iden­ti­fy dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties” with­in their juris­dic­tions and address envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice in their gen­er­al plans for land use. In their plans, cities and coun­ties must iden­ti­fy objec­tives and poli­cies to reduce the unique or com­pound­ed health risks in dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties [through] the reduc­tion of pol­lu­tion expo­sure, includ­ing the improve­ment of air qual­i­ty, and the pro­mo­tion of pub­lic facil­i­ties, food access, safe and san­i­tary homes, and phys­i­cal activ­i­ty.” These local gov­ern­ments must also work to increase com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment in pub­lic decisionmaking.”


In July 2021, Col­orado passed HB 21 – 1266 to address the envi­ron­men­tal inequities expe­ri­enced by dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed com­mu­ni­ties.” The bill envi­sions addi­tion­al per­mit­ting require­ments for pol­lu­tion sources that affect dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed com­mu­ni­ties. It also sets out new require­ments for iden­ti­fy­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed com­mu­ni­ties and mon­i­tor­ing new and mod­i­fied sources of pol­lu­tants in these com­mu­ni­ties. The bill also calls for a task force to con­sid­er a poten­tial require­ment that agen­cies pre­pare an envi­ron­men­tal equi­ty analy­sis for any state action that has the poten­tial to cause neg­a­tive envi­ron­men­tal or pub­lic health impacts to a dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed com­mu­ni­ty.” The bill also envi­sions the poten­tial for a con­sid­er­a­tion of cumu­la­tive impacts and instructs the task force to con­sid­er the impact of the analy­sis on per­mit­ting. The bill exempt­ed agri­cul­tur­al sources from any addi­tion­al conditions.


Passed in 2011 the state’s Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Act rec­og­nizes that cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties in the State may suf­fer dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly from envi­ron­men­tal haz­ards relat­ed to facil­i­ties with per­mits approved by the State.” The statute cre­at­ed the Com­mis­sion on Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice and instruct­ed it to devel­op cri­te­ria and reg­u­lar­ly report to the Gov­er­nor on options that address con­cerns of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice. The leg­is­la­ture is cur­rent­ly con­sid­er­ing HB4093 which would require the per­mit­ting process for new sources of air pol­lu­tion to include the review of cumu­la­tive impacts of air pol­lu­tion sources.


Mass­a­chu­setts’ Cli­mate Act, passed in 2021, requires an envi­ron­men­tal impact report for state projects that will cause dam­age to the envi­ron­ment” and will affect an envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice pop­u­la­tion.” That analy­sis should address any exist­ing unfair or inequitable pub­lic health and cli­mate impacts, as well as the dis­pro­por­tion­ate health and envi­ron­men­tal impacts that would like­ly result from a project. Mass­a­chu­setts’ Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion is also required to eval­u­ate and seek pub­lic com­ment on the incor­po­ra­tion of cumu­la­tive impact analy­ses in the assess­ment and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of cer­tain cat­e­gories of per­mits and approvals.” The depart­ment has pro­posed a Cumu­la­tive Impact Analy­sis Frame­work for Air Per­mits for com­ment, which will ulti­mate­ly be incor­po­rat­ed into per­mit­ting rules and used to eval­u­ate the poten­tial impacts that a project would have on the air emis­sions in or near envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice communities. 

New Jer­sey

New Jersey’s Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Law of 2020 pro­vides that the NJ Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion shall deny a per­mit for a new facil­i­ty if it would​“cause or con­tribute to 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 is to be locat­ed,” in which case a per­mit may be approved with con­di­tions to pro­tect pub­lic health. To make that deter­mi­na­tion, the law requires an assess­ment of the poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic health stres­sors that would result if a per­mit is approved or renewed in what the state defines as an​“Over­bur­dened Com­mu­ni­ty.” 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 Rules.)

New York

Ear­li­er this year, the state’s leg­is­la­ture passed New York Bill S8830/A2103D, which would require the con­sid­er­a­tion of the cumu­la­tive impacts that pro­posed projects would have on dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties” that are already over­bur­dened by the dis­pro­por­tion­ate sit­ing of pol­lut­ing facil­i­ties in their com­mu­ni­ties. The bill explic­it­ly pro­hibits the approval or renew­al of per­mits for projects that may impose addi­tion­al inequitable and/​or​dis­pro­por­tion­ate envi­ron­men­tal bur­dens on a dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ty. The bill awaits Gov­er­nor Hochul’s sig­na­ture.


In 2020, Vir­ginia passed the Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Act. The statute estab­lish­es a statewide pol­i­cy to pro­mote envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and ensure that it is car­ried out through­out the Com­mon­wealth, with a focus on envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice com­mu­ni­ties and fence­line com­mu­ni­ties.” The statute defines terms such as fence­line com­mu­ni­ty,” mean­ing­ful involve­ment,” and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.” The inclu­sion of this ter­mi­nol­o­gy lays a gen­er­al foun­da­tion to be used in future relat­ed legislation. 


With the Healthy Envi­ron­ment for All (HEAL) Act, passed in 2021, Wash­ing­ton imple­ment­ed many of the rec­om­men­da­tions from the state’s Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Task Force to reduce the envi­ron­men­tal and health dis­par­i­ties of its low-income and peo­ple of col­or res­i­dents. One goal of the Act is to reduce the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of tra­di­tion­al foods, which results in gen­er­a­tional health and eco­log­i­cal prob­lems, par­tic­u­lar­ly on small reser­va­tions.” The state’s agen­cies are required (i) to cre­ate and adopt equi­table com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment plans to facil­i­tate and sup­port the mean­ing­ful and direct involve­ment of vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions and over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ties,” and (ii) must con­duct an envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice assess­ment” for a sig­nif­i­cant agency action, which requires, where applic­a­ble, the use of cumu­la­tive envi­ron­men­tal health impact analy­ses that con­sid­er the effects of a pro­posed action on over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ties and vul­ner­a­ble populations.”


While there is no fed­er­al statute, these state statutes are exam­ples of proac­tive approach­es to address inequal­i­ty and the dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact that pol­lu­tion has had in many places. To read more, please vis­it our EJ Resource, pub­lished in part­ner­ship with WE ACT for Envi­ron­men­tal Justice.