Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


New Jersey Future Blogrss

Tracking Progress on Environmental Justice

June 15th, 2021 by

The Murphy administration has made environmental justice a priority, pledging to end the siting of environmental hazards in neighborhoods where low-income people and/or people of color live—and especially neighborhoods that are characterized by the presence of both low-income households and people of color. In September 2020 the Environmental Justice Law was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Murphy to protect disadvantaged communities from further exposure to environmentally hazardous land uses.

The law defines “overburdened communities,” which will benefit from the new protections. An overburdened community is any census block group in which any of the following conditions is met:

  1. at least 35 percent of households qualify as low-income households (at or below twice the poverty threshold, as determined by the United States Census Bureau); or
  2. at least 40 percent of residents identify as minority or as members of a State-recognized tribal community; or
  3. at least 40 percent of households have limited English proficiency (without an adult that speaks English “very well,” according to the United States Census Bureau).

The law is written to address the question of where not to locate certain types of facilities in the future. However, the administration has also indicated that it will prioritize the improvement of environmental conditions in overburdened communities when making decisions about where to invest in clean energy and other technologies designed to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, many of which will result in reductions in traditional pollutants, as well. The administration seems to want to use the newly defined concept of an overburdened community in a more proactive sense, rather than an exclusively reactive one.

One of the first situations in which this commitment will be tested is in the spending of proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program. Participating states are required to use the proceeds from CO2 allowance auctions for programs that are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of clean energy sources, but it is up to each state to decide exactly where (geographically) this money will be spent. In theory, there is nothing to stop a state from spending its RGGI money mainly on charging stations for electric vehicles in upscale suburbs, for example, which would do nothing to improve conditions in the communities that have historically suffered the most severe pollution impacts. But, New Jersey has already taken steps to assure the public that this will not happen.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which is coordinating efforts among the three state agencies1 charged with spending RGGI proceeds, has set up a RGGI Climate Investments Dashboard, where information about projects receiving RGGI funding will be made publicly available. To date, 19 projects have been added to the dashboard, all of which involve electrified municipal vehicles of various types (garbage trucks, shuttle buses, school buses, etc.). As more programs are finalized and application periods close, information about the awardees will be added.

The dashboard allows projects to be filtered and displayed according to various subsetting criteria, one of which is whether the project is located in an environmental justice (EJ) community. The overburdened community block groups are also illustrated on a map on the dashboard, and users can examine the locations of funded projects with respect to EJ community boundaries. Thus far, all projects have been tagged with the EJ flag because, in each case, the electric vehicle will be operating in a municipality that contains at least one EJ block group. However, the assignment of EJ status for mobile projects is not as straightforward as is the case for projects having a fixed location, in which case a building or other permanent facility is clearly either inside or outside an EJ block group. Electric vehicles, by contrast, may only spend part of their time in EJ block groups.

The development of tracking metrics is an ongoing process. New metrics may be added to the dashboard in the future, and others that do not lend themselves to graphic display may be tracked behind the scenes. In particular, if a methodology can be developed to distinguish the uses and benefits of non-stationary projects, such as electric vehicles, between EJ and non-EJ areas, New Jersey Future will continue to encourage state agencies to officially adopt such metrics and make results public. More generally, we will continue to provide feedback on proposed metrics for tracking progress on environmental justice as more RGGI-funded programs gear up and are added to the dashboard. As the dashboard user manual says, “The public needs to know how administering agencies are investing RGGI proceeds and what benefits are being achieved from those investments.”

While these investments are taking place, the State is contemplating joining the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). TCI is similar to RGGI but with a focus on the transportation sector. TCI discourages fossil fuel consumption in the transportation sector while generating funds that can be invested in cleaning the transportation sector, such as investments in alternatives to driving. Having good metrics and a tracking system in place, as they are doing with RGGI, will put the State in a good position to invest TCI proceeds wisely should they come to pass.

1 The Board of Public Utilities and the Economic Development Authority are the other two agencies.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.

© New Jersey Future, 16 W. Lafayette St. • Trenton, NJ 08608 • Phone: 609-393-0008 • Fax: 609-360-8478

Are you receiving our email newsletter?

  • Latest news on land-use policy issues
  • Research and reports
  • Upcoming events
  • Monthly

Click to subscribe