Beginning with an Executive Order signed by the Governor on April 20, 2018, the Murphy Administration signaled its intent to make Environmental Justice a centerpiece of the new Administration’s environmental policy. That Order directed the NJDEP to “take the lead in developing guidance for all executive agencies for the consideration of Environmental Justice in implementing their statutory and regulatory responsibilities.” The draft guidance was supposed to be completed within six months and the final guidance within ninety days thereafter.
While the completion of the draft guidance has been delayed, it is expected to see the light of day in early 2019 with final guidance to follow shortly thereafter. That delay has not impeded the Administration’s efforts to pursue Environmental Justice aggressively, as evidenced by eight lawsuits announced by the Attorney General targeting environmental conditions in lower income and minority communities on December 7, 2018. The selected communities are in Camden, Flemington, Newark, Palmyra, Pennsauken, Phillipsburg, and Trenton.
These cases involve a variety of actions, including suits to recover natural resource damages, cleanup costs and civil penalties, actions to force responsible parties to clean up contaminated sites, and a case seeking the removal of illegally disposed of waste. The AG also announced the formation of a new Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Unit and a nationwide leadership search for someone to head up the unit. Finally, he announced planned listening sessions with the Attorney General and the NJDEP Commissioner throughout the state in the coming months.
Thus, the coming year promises more aggressive environmental enforcement, particularly in Environmental Justice Communities as well as a new set of policy guidelines that will apply throughout the Murphy Administration.