Society is in constant motion, developing new trends, technologies, and movements to shake off the norms of the past that no longer serve us today. In an ideal world, policies would also progress alongside societal evolution, reflecting what we know today instead of being limited by existing, outdated regulations and sentiments. The Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) in Newark, New Jersey, has helped set a new and exciting precedent in environmental justice law. In doing so, this impactful grassroots organization is paving a path for achieving more comprehensive environmental and health protections for impacted communities nationwide.
Engulfed by polluting facilities, Newark is considered to be home to one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the country. Ecologically hazardous industrial operations are located near homes and schools, where the smell of toxic chemicals in the air is inescapable. Deeply concerned about their health and economic wealth, local residents organized to demand that lawmakers recognize their voices and acknowledge the harmful environmental health impacts of Newark’s ongoing industrial pollution.
Not only did ICC harness the power of community voices, but they also understood the need for building large-scale alliances, establishing partnerships with Clean Water Action and the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. In 2020, New Jersey passed the strongest environmental justice law in the nation to date, which included numerous proactive measures to protect overburdened communities from pollutants. The New Jersey Environmental Justice Law requires the “Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of polluting facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing permit applications.” These facilities include those that are “major sources of air pollution; sewage treatment plants with a capacity of more than 50 million gallons per day; solid waste facilities; recycling facilities that receive at least 100 tons of recyclable material per day; scrap metal facilities; landfills; or medical waste incinerators.” The law has paved the way for more vigorous action towards the health and environmental protection of New Jersey citizens. On a visit to Newark, Vice President Kamala Harris lauded the city’s success in replacing nearly 24,000 lead drinking water pipes in three short years, for a project initially thought to take a decade.
According to Governor Phil Murphy, the law “is a historic step to ensure that true community input and collaboration will factor into decisions that have a cumulative impact for years to come.” To expand their lessons learned and provide insights on their community experience, members of ICC will appear in a virtual celebratory event hosted by The Climate Advocacy Lab on Thursday February 24th at 1 pm Eastern (10 am Pacific). Join in on the conversation and listen to these climate justice champions inspire and empower us all to take action on statewide climate justice initiatives with your local community. Register here!