A New York law will require that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation take a hard look at the cumulative pollution burden that a neighborhood would face before granting any permits for facilities in that community. That, in and of itself, is not unique — last month the Biden administration restored part of the National Environmental Policy Act to require federal agencies to consider the cumulative impacts of their actions and several states have similar rules.
But the New York legislation goes further by prohibiting the state agency from carrying out any actions or approving any permits that might cause or contribute to a “disproportionate or inequitable” pollution burden on communities that have a large percentage of minority or low-income residents, are economically distressed, or already experience high rates of pollution. “If you want to do a project or proposed action in these communities, you’re going to have to damn well prove that it’s not going to exacerbate existing harms,” explained Anthony Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
“It’s a huge victory,” said Arif Ullah, executive director of South Bronx Unite. New York City has one of the country’s highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to asthma among children and young adults, and people in the South Bronx have been hit particularly hard by air pollution from gas-burning peaker power plants (which kick on when electricity demand is high), garbage transfer stations, warehouses, and major expressways.