WE ACT Applauds NY State Legislature For Passing Bills To Reduce The Impacts Of Pollution On Disadvantaged Communities

Yesterday the New York State Senate and Assembly passed legislation – S.8830 and A.2103C, respectively.

This legislation will ensure that cumulative impacts are taken into consideration in the State’s Environmental Quality Review process when potentially polluting facilities seek permits in disadvantaged communities.

This would be only the second such state law in the nation, 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.

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Current laws and regulations do not take the cumulative impacts of pollution into account when approving such facilities, instead of 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 ACT earned its reputation on hard-fought wins that have helped reduce the cumulative impacts suffered by communities in Northern Manhattan, including the North River Sewage Treatment Plant, the majority of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Manhattan diesel bus depots, and the New York City Department of Sanitation’s marine transfer station,” said Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “But we knew we really needed a law to safeguard all communities from this undue burden.”

“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,” added Jessel. “We need to stop treating these communities as dumping grounds for pollution and other hazards, and that is the aim of this legislation.”

We thank Senate Majority Leader and sponsor Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D35) as well as Assemblymember and sponsor J. Gary Pretlow (D89) for their leadership in getting this passed. We also thank Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Todd Kaminsky (D9) and Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright (D4), and Speaker Carl Heastie (D83) for their leadership in getting it passed in the Assembly. And now we urge New York State Governor Kathy Hochul to demonstrate her commitment to environmental justice by signing this critical legislation into law.

Quotes from New York State Cumulative Impacts Legislation Advocates

“In celebration of Earth Day, we must remember that our words are only as good as our actions. That is why the Senate Majority is committed to taking decisive action to combat climate change and protect our environment for generations to come. I am glad to help lead the fight for climate justice and was proud to have this bill pass as part of a wider climate legislative package. While dealing with the devastating impacts of climate change we must also recognize the communities that have been saddled with an unfair climate burden for decades and even centuries.” – Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

“For too long disadvantaged (black, brown and poor) communities have been negatively impacted by adverse environmental siting decisions. With the passing of this bill (A2103-D) equity and fairness will be brought into the system.” – Assembly Member J. Gary Pretlow

“This week, the State legislature has taken a historic step to address a legacy environmental justice issue. Communities of color and low income have been disproportionately exposed to poor air and contaminated water due to the inequitable siting of toxic facilities in their neighborhoods”, said Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy, WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “This landmark cumulative impacts legislation will address environmentally racist siting practices by requiring facilities to account for the neighborhood’s already existing burden. We thank Senate Majority Leader Stewart cousins and Assemblymember Pretlow for sponsoring this vital environmental justice legislation, and we look forward to Governor Hochul signing this legislation into law.”

“The discriminatory practice of placing power plants, industrial facilities, and municipal waste handling operations in Black, Brown, and low-income communities has been responsible for a host of illnesses over many generations. We applaud the NYS Senate and Assembly for passing legislation to begin the process of ending this injustice and we urge Governor Hochul to sign the bill into law so that communities like the South Bronx can finally breathe clean air.” – Arif Ullah, Executive Director, South Bronx Unite

“For too long Indigenous, Black, Brown, and poor communities have been treated like energy and pollution sacrifice zones due to systemic and iniquitous environmental racism. This landmark piece of legislation builds off of our state’s nation-leading climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, by centering disadvantaged and other environmental justice communities and proactively enjoining permits that would result in disproportionate impacts in communities already suffering from toxic air, toxic water, and the harmful effects of climate change. NYLPI thanks the bill’s co-sponsors, leadership in the Assembly and Senate and we urge the Governor to sign this bill into law post haste.” – Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, Director of Environmental Justice, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

“This is an important step forward for environmental justice in New York,” said Riverkeeper Senior Manager of Government Affairs, Jeremy Cherson. “Communities that bear the brunt of environmental pollution and the climate crisis deserve a comprehensive review of projects that may negatively impact their health and environment. Riverkeeper thanks Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assemblyman Pretlow for championing this important legislation. We now urge Governor Hochul to sign the bill.”

“For the past 45 years, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) has been administered without a direct mandate to protect disadvantaged communities or communities of color, 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 urge Governor Hochul to repair this long-standing inequity by signing this important environmental justice legislation into law.”

“For too long, the legacy of inequitable siting of industrial and commercial facilities have left disadvantaged communities sickened because of increased contaminants, pollution, and other toxics. We thank the New York Senate and Assembly for beginning to unwind this legacy by passing this legislation and call on Governor Hochul to sign it into law.” – Kate Kurera, Deputy Director, Environmental Advocates NY

“As Leader of the Cumulative Impacts/Mandatory Emission Reductions team at Coming Clean, I’m thrilled to see this action on the part of the New York State Legislature. New York is a bellwether state with a huge population and economy, and addressing cumulative impacts here will have a national ripple effect that could lead to improved federal policy. I’m proud to live in a state that is valuing its frontline people and communities,” said Kathleen Curtis, President, Moms for a Nontoxic New York.

Rachel Spector, Senior Attorney with Earthjustice, said, “This landmark legislation is a key step to correct the longstanding injustice and devastating health impacts of the clustering of polluting facilities in communities of color and low-income communities. Ensuring permits cannot be issued if they would cause or contribute to a disproportionately negative impact on these communities, and mandating consideration of inequitable impacts in the environmental review process, will help New York achieve an equitable and sustainable future for all. We applaud the advocates and bill sponsors for shepherding this bill to passage and urge the Governor to sign it into law.”

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 FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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