New York City Council Passes Bills to Identify and Address Environmental Justice Areas


By: Heewon Kim

Recently, the New York City Council passed two bills to help address environmental justice (“EJ”) issues in the city. Low-income populations and communities of color, including those in New York, often face disproportionate environmental burdens of human activity, such as air pollution and its accompanying health effects. New York City agencies have worked to address EJ concerns since the 1990s, and these bills will further their efforts by requiring city action to identify and address EJ challenges in New York. They were signed into law by Mayor de Blasio on April 25, 2017.

The Environmental Justice Policy Bill, Intro 886A, establishes an Interagency Working Group, consisting of representatives from city agencies and a special coordinator of EJ appointed by the mayor. The Interagency Working Group will develop a comprehensive Environmental Justice Plan to provide guidance and recommendations on incorporating EJ concerns into city decisionmaking, operations, programs and projects. A draft of the Environmental Justice Plan must be completed by December 31, 2019. The bill also establishes an EJ advisory board comprised of advocates appointed by city officials, with which the Interagency Working Group must consult in drafting the Environmental Justice Plan.

The Environmental Justice Study Bill, Intro 359, requires a city-wide survey to identify the boundaries of potential EJ areas, with the results to be made available to the public as an interactive map on an EJ portal accessed through a city website. The portal will also describe the particular concerns for each EJ area, the resources each area currently has to address EJ issues, and the barriers for local residents in participating in environmental decision-making. The portal is to be created by December 31, 2018.

While these bills do not immediately create any new enforceable requirements for the regulated community, it will assist in the identification of additional EJ areas where there are already heightened requirements for environmental review. For example, DEC guidance CP-29 provides that DEC may direct applicants who seek a permit in or near an EJ area to follow additional requirements to address potential adverse impacts to the area, such as preparing an Enhanced Public Participation Plan. In the future, NYC may also use the information gathered by the EJ studies to implement new policies for agencies and the regulated community to follow in conducting activities that may affect EJ communities.

For more information on environmental justice issues in New York City, please contact Jeff Gracer.