California Takes Steps to Incorporate Environmental Justice into Permitting Decisions
Late last year, New Jersey became the first state to require via legislation that its environmental state agency evaluate the contributions of certain facilities to existing environmental and public health stressors in overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications. California, never to be outdone, has begun its own legislative process to further incorporate environmental justice into state decision-making.
AB 1001 would amend California’s Health and Safety and Public Resource Codes to, in part, use environmental justice indicators during state reviews of siting and permit applications. The bill requires the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to “publish, maintain, and update a list of overburdened communities” by May 2022. This mandate aligns with CalEPA’s efforts to update CalEnviroScreen. Similar to the US EPA’s EJSCREEN, CalEnviroScreen is a tool used by state agencies and the public to identify communities in California that may be disproportionately burdened by sources of pollution.
The bill also mandates that by July 1, 2022, permitting agencies must take certain actions associated with an application for a new or reissued environmental permit for a facility located in an overburdened community. Notably, the bill would require a permit applicant to prepare an “environmental justice impact statement,” to conduct a public hearing in the overburdened community, and to transmit the environmental justice impact statement to the permitting agency. The permitting agency must then “deny the application or . . . apply conditions concerning the construction and operation of the facility to protect public health if it finds that the approval of the application would, together with other environmental or public health stressors affecting the overburdened community, cause or contribute to adverse cumulative environmental or public health stressors in the overburdened community that are higher than those borne by other communities.” AB 1001 also includes provisions that focus on obligations of California’s air districts, including adopting expedited schedules for implementation of air emission control technologies for certain industrial sources.
AB 1001 is currently with the State Assembly’s Committee on Natural Resources. AB 1001 should be followed closely as it moves through the legislative process. Notably, California isn’t alone. Other states are taking steps to operationalize environmental justice or otherwise promoting environmental justice.