Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities are continuously burdened by the cumulative impacts of multiple hazardous environmental facilities being placed in their communities. Historically, minority communities and economically distressed communities have borne a disproportionate and inequitable share of environmental facilities such as landfills, waste transfer stations, and fossil fuel power plants. These industrial facilities cause significant health impacts such as asthma, lung and heart disease, increased birth defects, and learning impairments. The negative health impacts of poor air quality, polluted waters, toxic gasses, and more are exacerbated in these communities as a result of the cumulative burden of multiple sites. This bill addresses a fundamental issue of environmental racism, that communities of color should not have all the environmental hazardous facilities sited in their neighborhoods.
This has been a topic of discussion for over 30 years, and still we have seen little change. A report into ‘Toxic Waste and Race’ in 1987 by Dr. Robert Bullard, a leader in the national environmental justice movement, found clear patterns of a higher percentage of commercial hazardous waste facilities in minority and low-income communities.
The report states that the possibility of these patterns having resulted by chance is virtually impossible, suggesting that there are some underlying factors relating to race when deciding where these facilities are to be located in the United States. Back when these findings were published, Black/African American communities had the highest rates of toxic exposure due to the most toxic facilities being sited in their neighborhoods. Communities of color continue to struggle with the effects of toxic exposure today, and Dr. Robert Bullard has since found that racial disparities in hazardous waste distribution are even greater than previously suspected. On average, black New Yorkers live three years less than their white counterparts. New Yorkers living in the areas covering Abor Hill, Sheridan Hollow, West Hill, and neighboring predominantly BIPOC communities lead lives 8 years shorter than those in the neighboring white-majority areas. Therefore, it is extremely important to stop the unequal siting of toxic facilities.
To combat these inequities, we are calling for the passage of this bill to amend the New York State SEQR process. The State Environmental Quality Review Act requires all state and local government agencies to consider the environmental significance of all actions in the decision-making process equally with the social and economic factors when deciding to approve or undertake an action. S1031C(Stewart-Cousins)/A2103C(Pretlow) would make provisions regarding the siting of environmental facilities in minority communities or economically distressed areas.
This legislation directs the Department of Environmental Conservation to modify its permitting process, monitoring, and enforcement standards to address high concentrations of environmental facilities in economically distressed and disadvantaged communities. The bill requires all agencies and applicants who plan to construct and manage environmental facilities in such communities to submit an existing burden report to determine whether such action may cause or increase a disproportionate inequitable burden on those communities. A permit may not be allocated if disproportionate harm would occur.
In 2020, a similar bill (NJ 232) passed in New Jersey making it the first of its kind in the United States to evaluate the environmental and public health stressors of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications and denying permits. We can pass a similar bill in New York State that would give low-income communities of color the same protections from industrial pollution burdens. It is vital to limit the cumulative impact of siting multiple facilities in one area and this bill will have a significant positive impact on the health of BIPOC and low-income communities.
By Dulcie May