Good morning. My name is Ray Cantor and I am Vice President of Government Affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. NJBIA is the largest statewide business association in the nation and our members provide over 1 million jobs.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Senate Bill No. 232. The comments I am making today are to the proposed substitute for that bill.
Unfortunately, NJBIA is opposed to this bill. First let me say that we understand and appreciate the Senator’s concern for overburdened communities and his desire to improve the conditions in which people live. We also recognize the complexity of the issue. If environmental justice lent itself to an easy solution it would have been resolved 20 years ago. And we are also appreciative of the continued effort by the Senator to improve this legislation. The bill is much improved from the version last session largely because the Senator listened to concerns and was willing to make changes.
I want to start off with some good news. While challenges obviously still remain, and new ones arise too often, New Jersey has made significant progress in both its air quality and hazardous site cleanups. New Jersey is now in attainment for PM 2.5, a prime cause of localized air pollution and health effects. Ozone levels have been steadily declining and New Jersey would be in attainment for that pollutant as well but for the standard being lowered by the federal government. To the extent that New Jersey remains in non-attainment it is largely due to out-of-state pollution sources that travel to our state.
The State has also spent $30 million over the last decade to retrofit diesel buses to improve local air quality. Also, since the enactment of the Site Remediation Reform Act in 2009, over 10,000 contaminated sites have been cleaned up, many of which are in poor urban areas.
These efforts have shown on the ground benefits as hospitalizations for asthma have been declining significantly for the last decade. We are hopeful that as more cars electrify, incentivized by legislation enacted only last month, that the air will become even cleaner. Still, we realize that more needs to be done and certain areas still suffer an unfair burden.
Also, before I get into the specific concerns we have with the substitute, let me also say what NJBIA would support. Given the challenges faced by certain communities, we believe that greater communications with the residents is necessary and we are supportive of provisions that require open public hearings and other communication efforts. This is especially so given the impact larger industrial facilities may have, or be perceived to have, on a community.
However, rather than “redline” an area for additional scrutiny and a higher standard of permit approval, a move that will impact manufacturers in the state, NJBIA favors a proactive approach to improve the environmental conditions in burdened communities. This approach can have far more meaningful impacts to residents’ lives than attempting to keep businesses out.
The NJDEP, in fact, has established just such a program and it has been successful. It is called the “Community Collaborative Initiative” (CCI) and it has operated largely without legislative involvement or codification. The premise of the program is to dedicate DEP resources, both personnel and monetary, to solve on-the-ground environmental issues that are impacting communities. Communities are identified and resources are then deployed.
Examples of CCI’s success include the elimination of sewer street flooding in Camden, the restoration of the Harrison landfill in Camden, the daylighting of a stream in Trenton, and the cleanup of a brownfield in near a Perth Amboy school, allowing that brownfield to be turned into a waterfront park.
We believe CCI is a better approach and it can use more resources.
On the substitute, our concerns are with the definition of an “overburdened community,” the requirement to look at cumulative impacts, and the ability to deny a permit based on a comparative risk basis.
We recognize that neighborhoods with high levels of poverty suffer greater challenges due a number of reasons, including less access to healthy foods and medical care. The definition in the substitute does recognize poverty as a factor, but it does not rely on any objective environmental or health impacts. Rather it uses racial and language surrogates that we do not believe adequately reflect the issues at hand.
The requirement to look at “cumulative environmental or public health stressors” would force a permit applicant to look into a community for an unlimited number of factors beyond its control and try to quantify how they impact a community. This is a near impossible task and an especially onerous one to a business trying to bring jobs to a community.
Finally, we object to permits being denied by using an undefined test that attempts to compare disproportionate impacts to other areas of the state. The test itself is too vague to be applied in a regulatory permit context and the result would not necessarily mean that unacceptable harm would result.
The standard applied in the context of environmental permitting for the last 50 years is to minimize pollution to the extent technologically possible and to set objective health standards to which permittees must comply. The air program does look at cumulative impacts of an air emission both in a localized context and in areas where the State is in violation of a criteria pollutant. This legislation would take us in a new, unprecedented direction and it will only serve to stop certain businesses from locating in certain areas.
In conclusion, we understand the complexity of this issue and the problems the sponsor is trying to solve. We believe a more proactive approach to solving problems is preferable to “redlining” legislation. We also believe that the imposition of cumulative burden tests and comparative impact standards will only serve to prevent manufacturing and other jobs from coming into certain areas.
Thank you for your consideration and we welcome an opportunity to meet to discuss this further.