The landmark environmental justice legislation ensures that cumulative impacts are taken into consideration in the State’s environmental permitting processes when potentially polluting facilities seek permits in disadvantaged communities.
It’s a historic move, making New York the second such in the nation with such a law, following New Jersey’s groundbreaking legislation signed in 2020, which was advanced by the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and others.
Low-income communities and communities of color throughout New York State have historically been burdened by a disproportionate number of pollution-generating facilities such as factories, power plants, bus depots, sewage treatment plants, garbage dumps and transfer stations, and trucking centers.
This inequitable siting has turned these communities into environmental sacrifice zones, with the cumulative impacts of these multiple sources of pollution exponentially harming their residents, causing health impacts such as asthma, lung and heart disease, increased birth defects, and learning impairments.
Current laws and regulations do not take the cumulative impacts of pollution into account when approving such facilities, instead treating them as if they were the only source of pollution that residents will have to endure, which is why this Cumulative Impacts bill will be landmark legislation in addressing the environmental racism that has plagued the health and well-being of these communities for generations.
“We saw disadvantaged communities across the state suffer higher rates of illness and mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic, with studies linking the higher incidence of chronic diseases to the adverse health impacts of air pollution and other forms of pollution, which studies also link to the cumulative impacts of exposure in these communities,” said Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, who co-leads the Cumulative Impacts coalition and the JustGreen Partnership. “We need to stop treating these communities as dumping grounds for pollution and other hazards, and this law will protect these communities from additional burdens and prevent them from continuing to be environmental sacrifice zones.”
This legislation was championed by a partnership co-led by WE ACT for Environmental Justice and South Bronx Unite, along with the JustGreen Partnership, Earthjustice, Clean+Healthy, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Riverkeeper, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, NRDC, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Environmental Advocates NY, Moms for a Nontoxic New York, Bronx Climate Justice North, 350 Brooklyn/City Action, and other organizations.
“We thank Governor Hochul and our bill sponsors and champions, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, for their leadership in creating this landmark law to protect New York’s most polluted communities. And we thank our colleagues at South Bronx Unite and the other organizations and advocates who helped make this happen,” added Jessel.
Quotes from New York State Cumulative Impacts Legislation Advocates
“We thank the State legislature, Governor, and fellow environmental justice advocates for getting this critical bill across the finish line. Frontline communities like the South Bronx have been subjected to decades of disproportionate pollution from a variety of toxic facilities, including power plants, medical waste incinerators, and waste transfer stations. This has resulted in a host of illnesses, ranging from asthma and infant mortality to heart disease and cognitive impairment, effectively limiting our ability to thrive. With this legislation, we can now prevent any more polluting facilities from further harming our communities and begin to alleviate the devastating consequences of discriminatory public policies.” Said Mychal Johnson, Co-Founder of South Bronx Unite.
“Many Black, Indigenous, communities of color, and low-income communities in New York are burdened with a long and continuing legacy of pollution from environmental facilities sited in their communities. These factories, power plants, bus depots, waste transfer stations, and more have been unfairly and inequitably placed in disadvantaged communities, and have resulted in health conditions, including contributing to the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact,” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean+Healthy. “By requiring community-scale assessments to determine whether proposed facilities will unduly burden a community before DEC issues a permit, this law will help restore environmental justice and help break cycles of poor health outcomes. Thank you to Governor Hochul for signing this very important legislation into law, and thank you Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assemblymember Pretlow for sponsoring this bill.”
“Communities of Color in New York have faced a disparate and disproportionate exposure to ecological hazards and impacts due to zoning regulations, rules and process that result in impacts on health, well-being, and quality of life outcomes. As a long-time Environmental Justice movement pioneer, I want to add my voice of praise and support to the Governor and Majority leader for this important legislative milestone for frontline communities in New York.” Said Aaron Mair, past Sierra Club national president and founder of Arbor Hill Environmental Justice.
“For the past 45 years, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) has been administered without a direct mandate to protect disadvantaged communities who already bear the burden of disproportionate environmental degradation and pollution. While SEQRA has undoubtedly improved New York’s environment and saved us from some especially harmful projects and policies, the lopsided focus on protecting what is rare and pristine has distracted efforts to restore equity and justice to where pollution and discrimination have been allowed to comingle for decades,” said Roger Downs, Conservation Director, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “We commend Senate Leader Stewart Cousins and Assemblymember Pretlow for their vision and leadership and applaud Governor Hochul for addressing this long-standing inequity by signing the “cumulative impacts” legislation into law.”
“This groundbreaking new law updating New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act for the 21st century, rights a longtime wrong in New York’s project reviews to better protect and inform communities already facing high burdens of pollution,” said Jeremy Cherson, Riverkeeper Senior Manager of Government Affairs. “Riverkeeper thanks Governor Hochul for signing this important legislation as well as Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assemblyman Pretlow for their sponsorship and advocacy on behalf of this landmark law.”
Said Patrick McClellan, Policy Director for the New York League of Conservation Voters: “Environmental justice is a necessary component of any good environmental policy, and the Cumulative Impacts bill is an example of legislation that strikes at the heart of the matter by effectively reigning in the siting of environmental facilities in economically distressed areas. The New York League of Conservation Voters applauds Governor Hochul and the state legislature—who passed this bill with overwhelming bipartisan support—for advancing New York’s commitment to environmental justice with this law.”
“For far too long communities of color across the state have been subject to an overburden of pollution sources and facilities. This legislation will help course correct the wrongs perpetrated on environmental justice communities by ensuring a new standard for evaluating projects and facilities is undertaken in these vulnerable communities.”Said Kate Kurera, Deputy Director of Environmental Advocates NY. “Environmental justice communities must be ensured an equitable future and must no longer viewed as sacrifice zones. We commend Governor Hochul for signing this important legislation as well as Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assemblyman Pretlow for their sponsorship.”
“The business community applauds Governor Hochul for taking this important step to safeguard our health and economy,” said Bob Rossi, Executive Director of the New York Sustainable Business Council. “The disproportionate impacts of environmental hazards further wealth inequality and create drag on our social services and overall economy. We are thrilled to see New York’s leadership on addressing cumulative impacts.”
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.