Mar 2, 2021
Enviromental Justice Law Likely to Add Cost and Time to New Jersey Development Projects for Years to Come
New Jersey’s “Environmental Justice Law” (‘EJL’) signed by Governor Murphy on September 18, 2020, will have significant and far-reaching effects for many New Jersey businesses and developers for years to come. The EJL has been heralded as a sweeping measure designed to “evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications.” However, the EJL is much more than an aspirational policy statement. Simply put, depending on the EJL implementing regulations, expect many development projects to take longer and cost more than they might once have.
The concept of “environmental justice” is a front burner issue, and EJL is the means by which the NJDEP intends to work towards its stated goal of “…the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The EJL requires the environmental impacts of certain development projects be considered and analyzed both during the review phase of permit applications related to such projects, and for completeness review as well. Those requirements will, no doubt, add cost and time to affected projects.
The effects of the EJL are not confined to a few select areas of the State. To the contrary, the EJL is anticipated to impact projects located in, or even simply affect 331 areas throughout the State of New Jersey which have been identified by the NJDEP as “overburdened communities (OBC’s).” These OBC’s include communities in Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken, Morristown, New Brunswick, Elizabeth, Passaic, Paramus, Paterson and many, many others. In other words, many of the hotbeds of development in New Jersey are squarely within the crosshairs of the EJL. Given the sheer number of communities the NJDEP has identified as OBC’s throughout the State, coupled with the lack of alternative vacant undeveloped land (especially in North Jersey) available, there are little to no other sites to which development projects may be shifted. Thus, the EJL and its ramifications will have to be addressed.
But what, exactly, will be required? That largely remains to be seen. Even though the EJL is now the law of this State, the mechanics of the implementation are still being formulated. To that end, NJDEP has already begun holding stakeholder meetings designed to provide information and solicit comments on the promulgation of the regulations to implement the EJL. Most recently, on January 20, 2021, the NJDEP held environmental stakeholder meetings for both industry and civic groups, which focused on how best to define the geographic units used to assess, from a comparative standpoint, environmental impact on OBC’s (the State overall? Non-OBC’s? the particular county at issue overall? Non-OBC’s in the county?) and how to define the facilities and permits impacted by the EJL. Links to the presentation slides from and video of the meetings can be found here: https://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/policy.html. The public comment period for this stakeholder meeting has now closed, but this process is expected to last well into the future.
It is critical that New Jersey businesses keep abreast of this process and take advantage of the opportunities to submit input where appropriate. Truly, environmental justice is not just an issue “on the horizon” – the issue is here now and how it will affect New Jersey businesses for years to come is being defined currently. We will continue to follow this process closely and will relay key developments as they come to light in the months to come.
DISCLAIMER: This Alert is designed to keep you aware of recent developments in the law. It is not intended to be legal advice, which can only be given after the attorney understands the facts of a particular matter and the goals of the client.