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New York Makes It Easier to Identify Potential Environmental Justice Communities

The New York State Legislature passed legislation on Tuesday, April 30, that requires the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to publish a biennial list of “high local environmental impact zones” – areas that are most adversely affected by existing environmental hazards. The legislation amends New York’s Environmental Conservation Law to more proactively identify, evaluate and understand locations that are disproportionally environmentally burdened. 

The list will identify high local environmental impact zones in as much detail as practical, and will identify these areas by census tract, census block group or ZIP code.  In compiling the list, the DEC must consider various types of potentially adverse environmental impacts, including: 

  1. Releases of toxic chemical and petroleum discharges.
  2. Emissions, discharges, and stored waste authorized by permits.
  3. The amount of pesticides sold and used.
  4. The number of DEC-determined impaired water bodies.
  5. The presence of inactive hazardous waste disposal sites.
  6. Whether the area has been designated as nonattainment for any pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act.

In a news conference related to the bill, state Sen. José Marco Serrano (D)—the bill’s Senate sponsor—stated, “This information is critical when citing new facilities, when taking into account the transparency needed for any kind of development in a community, but it will also shine a spotlight on these hot spots, these areas that have an over-saturation of detrimental environmental causes.”

By passing this legislation, New York explicitly recognizes that the residents of communities with a high presence of environmental pollution are more afflicted with associated health problems and that such communities are disproportionally populated by persons of low income and/or persons of color. The legislature’s goal is that local and state agencies rely on the DEC-published list in making future siting decisions and that these decisions engage in “fair treatment” whereby considerations of potential adverse impacts on over-burdened communities is appropriately considered. The legislation furthers New York’s efforts to act consistently with President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice, which requires the consideration of environmental justice issues in certain federal government actions.

Although the new legislation does not mandate consideration of the DEC list in environmental decision-making, it is another example of a growing trend among states prioritizing environmental justice concerns.  Industry, government and other stakeholders, therefore, should remain aware of DEC’s application of this new law, identified impact zones, and any related state legislation that may arise – including among other states that may propose similar analysis.  Implementation of this law may also shed light upon how state regulators define environmental justice communities and will assist in assessing impacts and risks related to these identified areas.

While both houses of the New York State Legislature passed the bill, Governor Andrew Cuomo must sign the measure for it to become law. All signs point to him doing that as both environmental and business groups have expressed support for it.

© 2020 Beveridge & Diamond PC


About this Author

Stacey Sublett Halliday environmental lawyer Beveridge Diamond

Drawing on her government and private practice experience, Stacey advises clients on internal investigations, corporate sustainability, and environmental justice.

Her work includes:

  • Internal investigations and U.S. environmental enforcement (including court-appointed monitorships).
  • Global product stewardship, including electronics right to repair, planned obsolescence, and transboundary movement of used electronics.
  • Social corporate responsibility strategy, sustainability reporting, and environmental justice policy implementation....
Mackenzie Schoonmaker, Environmental Lawyer, Beveridge & Diamond Law Firm

Mackenzie Schoonmaker focuses her practice on litigation and environmental regulatory matters.  Ms. Schoonmaker’s litigation practice includes representing clients in state and federal courts, as well as in data compensation arbitrations under the federal pesticide statute, FIFRA.  Most recently, Ms. Schoonmaker was part of the Firm’s trial team that secured a defense judgment in the District of Columbia Superior Court after a three week trial on tort claims alleging the client supplied corrosive water to apartment buildings.

Benjamin F. Wilson environmental litigation lawyer Beveridge Diamond

Ben Wilson is a leader on ethics, compliance, and diversity and inclusion.

Under his leadership, Beveridge & Diamond has been recognized as an “Environmental Practice Group of the Year” by Law360 for two years in a row, named “Environmental Firm of the Year” by U.S. News-Best Lawyers, ranked Tier 1 nationwide for Environmental Law and Environmental Litigation by U.S. News-Best Lawyers, included on the National Law Journal’s “Midsize Hot List,” and listed among national leaders in environmental practices by Chambers USA...

Brooklyn Hildebrandt, environmental litigation lawyer, Beveridge

Brooklyn maintains a diverse environmental litigation and regulatory practice, which includes experience with the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and CERCLA. Brooklyn joined the firm following her graduation from the University of North Carolina School of Law.

During her time at the University of North Carolina School of Law, Brooklyn worked on the North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation and competed as a member of the Environmental Appellate Advocacy team at the West Virginia University energy and Pace University environmental moot court...

(202) 789-6021
Julius M. Redd, Environmental Lawyer, Beveridge & Diamond Law Firm

Julius Redd's practice focuses on commercial and environmental litigation. He works with clients across a wide spectrum of industries, including chemicals, oil and gas, and retail.

Julius' experience includes:

  • First-chairing two commercial litigation jury trials and second-chairing bench trial of multi-million dollar commercial litigation matter.

  • Supporting multi-million dollar environmental litigation regarding discharges into surface waters.

  • ...