Attorney General, DEP File Lawsuits Across New Jersey Targeting Polluters in Lower-Income and Minority Communities

CAMDEN – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe today announced the filing of eight separate lawsuits focused on addressing pollution and environmental hazards in minority and lower-income communities across the state. The lawsuits marked a new “environmental justice” initiative designed to support communities that have historically suffered some of the worst environmental harms in the state.

“Environmental justice means that everyone, no matter race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or income, deserves to live and work in a healthy and clean environment,” said Attorney General Grewal. “But too often, the same communities suffer the worst environmental problems over and over again but don’t get the support that they need. Today, in New Jersey, we’re taking an unprecedented step forward in changing that. We’re filing eight lawsuits to protect the environment in these areas. Our first-of-its-kind statewide environmental justice action should make one thing clear to the polluters that have run amok in these communities: Not on our watch. We’re going to make New Jersey a national leader on environmental justice.”

“Cleaner environments promote stronger communities. For too long the residents of urban areas and other communities have not had their voices heard and have had to bear the burden of disproportionate sources of pollution and the consequent health effects,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “It is imperative that we take actions such as these to substantively address these issues and restore the confidence of residents and their elected leaders that New Jersey is committed to improving day-to-day life for all New Jersey’s people, especially our most vulnerable populations.”

The eight actions filed today encompass a broad range of communities. As the accompanying fact sheet lays out in detail, today’s lawsuits concern sites in Camden, Flemington, Newark (2), Palmyra, Pennsauken, Phillipsburg, and Trenton.

The suits also include an array of enforcement actions. The lawsuit involving Pennsauken is a Natural Resource Damages (NRD) case—the fourth NRD case the State has filed this year. The lawsuit involves Puchack Wellfield, a series of wells that provided drinking water to Camden residents decades ago. The State alleges that the defendant was responsible for hazardous pollution that resulted in termination of the wells. The State is seeking NRD damages, as well as cleanup and removal costs that have been incurred and will be incurred at the site.

In other cases, the State’s actions seek to force companies to clean up the soil and groundwater contamination for which they’re responsible. In some, the lawsuits seek not only site clean-up by the responsible parties, but also payment of financial penalties because the individuals or companies ignored prior orders to clean up the properties. Another seeks an order directing removal of illegally-dumped solid waste from a property in Trenton. And multiple of these actions seek to recover tax dollars the State had to spend cleaning up polluted properties.

Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe announced the State’s legal actions today during a press conference held in Camden, at the headquarters of the non-profit community organization Camden Lutheran Housing.

In addition to filing eight legal actions today, Attorney General Grewal added that his office is restructuring a new unit to bring additional focus to environmental justice issues. The section, to be called the “Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section,” will repurpose existing resources and hire additional attorneys to bring enforcement actions and promote environmental justice across the state. Attorney General Grewal announced that Kevin Jespersen, who previously served in multiple leadership roles in the AG’s Office – including as Executive Assistant Attorney General and Chief Counsel to the Attorney General – will oversee the Section while the office undertakes a nationwide leadership search.

After the press conference, at 2:00 pm today, Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe are hosting a listening session on environmental justice at the same location (Camden Lutheran Housing), where members of the public, community groups, and environmental groups will discuss their concerns and views on the State’s environmental challenges. The Attorney General and Commissioner expect to hold additional sessions across the state in coming months.

“Today is just the beginning of our environmental justice agenda, and we are going to pursue other polluters who have put the residents of these communities at risk,” explained Attorney General Grewal. “We’re going to run a different kind of environmental enforcement program: one that asks how enforcement cases can promote justice. That’s why we’re hearing from these communities directly, to find out how we can best support them. And that’s why I’m creating an Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section in my office, something we’ve never had in the Garden State. No matter where you live and no matter your background, you deserve to have a healthy environment.”

“In New Jersey, committing to environmental justice is more than just talk,” said Commissioner McCabe. “It requires legal enforcement and structures that support the principles: that everyone in New Jersey is entitled to communities that support their health, rather than endangering it. We support the Attorney General’s efforts to realign environmental enforcement to address the needs of everyone in our state.”

Earlier this year, Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe announced a “new day” for environmental enforcement in New Jersey, and today’s lawsuits build on that effort. In August, the State filed six separate lawsuits to recover damages caused by pollution across New Jersey, including the first three “Natural Resource Damages” (or NRD) cases in a decade. As part of today’s announcement, Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe vowed to continue this effort, which is likely to include additional lawsuits in the coming months.

Photographs of the sites involved with today’s environmental justice announcement are available at: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmuQ4yov​.

The job posting for the Assistant Attorney General to spearhead the Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section can be found at: www.nj.gov/oag/job-postings/18-325_Assistant_Attorney_General.pdf

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