Newark Makes History With First-In-The-Nation Environmental Justice Ordinance

On July 13th, the City of Newark made history when the Newark Municipal Council passed a first-in-the-nation Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts Ordinance which seeks to address the problems that have led to unhealthy levels of pollution in the region’s poorest communities. 

The ordinance requires developers requesting environmental permits to inform the city of any environmental impacts. This information is to be submitted to the City’s Environmental Commission along with the developer’s initial site-plan application so that the Commission can advise the Central Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment and the public of any possible “cumulative pollution impacts.” 

Typical urban pollution sources are runoff water from buildings, streets and sidewalks, automobile tire wear and exhaust fumes and wind-blowing debris from roofs, road work, sidewalks and undeveloped areas. 

“We hope to set a national precedent for urban revitalization that takes into account health impacts,” says Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “This is an important step forward for environmental justice. The city council passed innovative environmental legislation to help reduce pollution in our City that not only impacts Newarkers, but protects the health of the hundreds of thousands of children and adults that travel through our streets, airport and seaport. I am glad that we were able to come together as a community and enact change for a more sustainable and vibrant future.”

Environmental Justice & Cumulative Impacts

Clean Water Action, which has been actively involved in working to pass environmental justice and cumulative impacts legislation, thanks Mayor Baraka and his team for making the ordinance a reality. This legislation will address severe environmental pollution problems in the city and assist in the development of a healthy and sustainable city. 

Newark is subject to a concentrated amount of environmental pollution due to its dense transit network including a major airport and seaport, industrial uses, and waste and sewer treatment facilities. The city is home to the largest trash incinerator in the Northeast and the 2nd largest port in the nation with 7,000 trucks making an estimated 10,000 trips daily.

Additionally, Newark residents face the nation's 2nd greatest cancer risk due to diesel emissions and school-age children in Newark have double the state and national average rate (25%) for asthma, resulting in missed school days and high medical bills. This ordinance will help move the city in a healthier direction without slowing or impeding economic development. The ordinance directs the Newark Environmental Commission to establish a baseline for environmental conditions and seeks to address the problems that have led to unhealthy, concentrated levels of pollution in the region’s poorest communities.

Environmental Justice & Cumulative Impacts Ordinance Summary

The goal of the ordinance is to advance Environmental Justice, good stewardship, and sustainable economic development in furtherance of the priorities outlined in the Newark Sustainability Action Plan and the Newark Master Plan by:*

  • Amending the City's Zoning and Land Use Code (41)
  • Directing the City to prepare a Natural Resource Index (NRI) that details the existing environmental conditions and related public health, demographic and land use features that will serve as a baseline for any new development application
  • Requiring all applicants for major site plan approval from the Newark Central Planning Board or a variance from the Newark Zoning Board of Adjustment that (i) is seeking approval for a Commercial, Light Manufacturing or Industrial Use project and (ii) requires one or more approvals or permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) or the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, or requires inclusion in the Essex County Solid Waste Management Plan -
  1. To consult the NRI and prepare an Environmental Review Checklist (ERC)
  2. The ERC requires development applicants to provide information pertaining to their proposed project including: air pollution, stormwater, hazardous materials, truck trips, solid waste, geographic proximity to communities of color, etc. 
  • The ERC must be submitted along with the full application before the city can make the determination that the proposal is technically complete and ready for review.
  • The checklist information submitted by applicants must be forwarded to the Environmental Commission for review. The Commission can then prepare an opinion after a public review of the information and submit their recommendations to the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Adjustment. 

For more information, please contact Kim Gaddy, Environmental Justice Organizer, kgaddy@cleanwater.org

*Ordinance summary written by Ana Baptista, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Policy & Sustainability Management Program, Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy

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