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Episode 90: Unpacking NJ’s Landmark Environmental Justice Law

Liz Bothwell

January 11, 2021

In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Matt Karmel, an attorney with Riker Danzig’s Environmental Law Group, which is among the largest and most diverse practices of its kind.

We spoke with Karmel about new legislation tackling the delicate balance between industry and environment; assessing and addressing environmental burdens on communities; the evolving impact of cannabis operations on the waste and recycling industry, and more.

Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: Can you tell us more about your work on environmental justice law?

Karmel: The concept is: ensuring 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. In other words, there tend to be — around urban communities — lots of large facilities that have environmental impact. And there is often the feeling that when they get cited in those communities, there is disproportionate impact: more environmental burden and fewer environmental benefits. So, in order to address this, states are taking different approaches.

Waste360: What is the latest on environmental-justice law where you are, in New Jersey?

Karmel: In New Jersey, a new law aims to incorporate environmental-justice considerations into the permitting process—so when a facility is going to expand or be cited in a particular area, or needs certain permits…as part of that process it will have to look at what are the environmental burdens on that community from that project, and is there a disproportionate impact on that community as a result of the facility when you compare it with another community within the state.

Waste360: Can you elaborate on how this will play out?

Karmel: There are many nuances to this. How do you determine what the impact of a facility is? Certainly air emissions, and other types of discrete pollution, like water pollution—the type of things that come out of a pipe or a stack. But the definition of environmental or public-health stressor also includes conditions that may cause potential public-health impacts such as asthma, cancer, etc. This is a flexible definition, which is important to keep in mind. In stakeholder meetings, things like age of housing may come up; lack of access to healthy food; lack of access to green space; traffic impacts…those things are likely to be considered stressors. For instance, if you were to build a power plant and destroy a green space, this will be a consideration. But how do you come up with a holistic evaluation to compare a variety of impacts? And this is just one of several nuances to this new law.

Waste360: Do you have any advice for the waste sector to help them prepare for this?

Karmel: Absolutely. We already have an idea of where the overburdened communities are. Facilities need to look at that list and match up where they are in the planning stage (of new development or expansion) to know whether they are likely to be subject. They should start making a public-outreach plan and building those grassroots relationships to get community buy-in to the extent possible. What narratives and context can they provide for their facilities? At the early planning stages, it’s really important — because you don’t want to get too far down the line and realize you need to change things. So it’s about planning ahead.

Read transcript here.

#NothingWastedPodcast

About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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