NEWARK, NJ -  Three listening sessions will be held so the state Department of Environmental Protection can get input on how it should consider environmental justice in its work.

The state DEP’s draft proposal lays out how all executive branch departments or agencies should consider environmental justice when addressing issues in communities that experience excessive exposure to pollutants. Residents will get to comment on that proposal in the Trenton, Bridgeton and Elizabeth as well as online for a 60-day period.

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of people regardless of race, color, national origin or income in the determination of environmental laws and policies, according to the federal government's definition. 

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“Environmental justice is a critical concern for all state agencies when making decisions that will impact communities long overburdened by sources of pollution and the resultant health impacts,” Commissioner Catherine McCabe said in a statement. “Every New Jersey resident, particularly those in our most vulnerable populations, deserves to live in a clean and healthy environment. Our quality of life depends on it.”

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order last year that directed the DEP to develop the plan that is now up for discussion.

The DEP drew up the draft plan using an interagency panel to get input from impacted communities, conservation and planning organizations, businesses, and municipal and legislative representatives. The panel held multiple meetings during 2018 at the DEP and in communities to hear ideas and concerns.

Panel participants have so far concluded that environmental justice communities include areas that have excessive air pollution from vehicles, lead contamination in housing, drinking water and soils, or a high number of contaminated sites with hazardous waste.

“New Jersey’s urban communities are disproportionately impacted and overburdened by harmful effects from pollution,” said DEP Environmental Justice Advisory Council chairman Zachary Lewis in a statement. “A greater emphasis must be made to provide clean and healthy environments and ensure that sound environmental policies are at the forefront in the decision-making process.”

The state filed suit in August against former manufacturing companies and developers in the city's Ironbound section to recoup remediation costs. Newark has also exceeded federally-accepted lead levels four times since 2017.

Written comments may be submitted until March 22 to Public listening sessions on the draft plan will be held on the following dates:

Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Prudence Hall at Thomas Edison State University, 111 W. State Street, Trenton, Mercer County;

Tuesday, Feb. 12 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Municipal Court Room, 330 Fayette Street, Bridgeton, Cumberland County;

Tuesday, March 5 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Peterstown Community Center, 408 Palmer Street, Elizabeth, Union County.

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