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Public Comments on the Advisory Group Recommendations Report

Environmental Justice Advisory Group Report

This report sets forth recommendations for how environmental justice can be incorporated into permit review, State Environmental Quality Review Act procedures, and some components of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) enforcement, public participation and grants programs. This report and public comment generated from this report will serve as the basis for future DEC policy related to environmental justice.

In 1998, various parties interested in environmental justice, including a number of environmental justice advocates and community representatives from around New York State, met with former DEC Commissioner Cahill to express their concern over environmental justice issues. Among those represented were residents from minority and low-income communities concerned about actual and potential adverse environmental impacts in and around their communities. Concerns raised by interested parties included, but were not limited to: the lack of meaningful public participation by minority or low-income communities in the permit process; the unavailability or inaccessibility to the public of certain information early in the permit process; and the failure of the permit process to include environmental justice concerns in the environmental impact assessment review. Other concerns that were raised related to the equitable distribution of green benefits to minority and low-income communities; lack of consistent, effective enforcement in all communities against violators of the Environmental Conservation Law; and issues related to environmental justice and Native Americans.

In response to the concerns raised by the parties interested in environmental justice, former Commissioner Cahill established the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Environmental Justice Advisory Group (Advisory Group). The Advisory Group was asked to develop recommendations to incorporate environmental justice into the DEC permit process and recommendations for a strategic environmental justice plan.

In preparing this report, the Advisory Group received considerable input from: interested citizens through a series of public meetings; from DEC staff; and through the broad range of expertise and diverse view points of the Advisory Group members themselves. The Advisory Group served as a decision-making body for this report. It had responsibility to make decisions regarding various issues which came before it, including: the selection, characterization, and comparison of issues and solutions; the identification of priorities; and the selection of strategies, which are presented to Commissioner Crotty. When making decisions, the Advisory Group sought the most broad, inclusive and informed consensus possible. When a consensus was not reached, decisions were based on the will of the majority. Each Advisory Group member was given the opportunity to submit a supplemental letter addressing these or other comments regarding the report. The letters are contained in the appendix of this report.

Former Commissioner Cahill's initiative to establish the Advisory Group, and the confirmation and support of the Advisory Group's mission by Commissioner Crotty, demonstrates the importance the DEC places on addressing environmental justice concerns. Therefore, it was with great pleasure that the Advisory Group presented this report to Commissioner Crotty.

Foundation for Environmental Justice Policy Development

Environmental Justice became a national issue in 1982 when approximately 500 demonstrators gathered in Warren County, North Carolina, to protest the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill in a predominately African-American and low-income community. This protest led to several studies pertaining to environmental justice and two major environmental conferences, which further increased awareness of environmental justice issues. As a result of these studies, conferences and the fundamental questions raised by grassroots organizations concerning the fairness of environmental protection policies in the United States, government policymakers at multiple levels became sensitive to and involved in environmental justice matters.

In 1998, former Commissioner John P. Cahill met with environmental justice advocates to discuss environmental New York State issues from an environmental justice perspective. The meetings provided the DEC the opportunity to listen to the concerns of New York State residents living in minority or low-income communities and explore how DEC could address these concerns.

Subsequently, DEC began incorporating environmental justice concepts into environmental decision making. On October 4, 1999, Commissioner Cahill formalized DEC's efforts and announced the creation of a new program to address environmental justice concerns and ensure community participation in the state's environmental permitting process. Commissioner Cahill named an environmental justice coordinator to develop and oversee the DEC's Environmental Justice Program; coordinate efforts to develop and implement short-term and long-term environmental justice policy; and assist the Office of General Counsel with legal matters related to environmental justice. The coordinator also represents DEC in its dealings with interested parties on environmental justice matters and chairs and directs the Environmental Justice Advisory Group. Two environmental analyst positions were added in the Division of Environmental Permits, one in Albany and one in New York City, to address environmental justice issues in the permitting process. Additional staff has also been added.

Also, in 1999, DEC received a United States Environmental Protection Agency State and Tribal Environmental Justice Grant to assist in developing a comprehensive environmental justice program and policies. The grant addressed these elements: (1) formation of an environmental justice Advisory Group; (2) development of an environmental justice permit policy with guidelines for addressing environmental justice permitting issues; (3) enhancement of the DEC website; (4) conducting a series of public meetings throughout the State to identify environmental justice concerns; and (5) recommendations for a strategic environmental justice plan. DEC supplemented the grant with additional money and funds the Environmental Justice Program.

Pursuant to the United States Environmental Protection Agency State and Tribal Environmental Justice Grant, the Advisory Group was assembled and began meeting in January 2000. The Advisory Group met almost monthly and held several public meetings to gather information for this report. The public meetings were held in Syracuse, Buffalo, New York City, Albany and the Onondaga Nation and enabled the Advisory Group to listen to the concerns of minority and low-income communities as well as others affected by environmental issues from an environmental justice perspective. The public meetings were a valuable tool for gathering information and a positive learning experience for the Advisory Group, DEC and the attendees, as all groups learned to listen and work together to address environmental justice.

Link to the full report is listed at the top of this page.

Comments Received:

Public Meeting Transcripts (2002)

The comment period on the report officially ended on February 22, 2002. The report and public comments will be reviewed by DEC to determine appropriate legislative, regulatory and policy changes that can be implemented.

DEC staff and the DEC Environmental Justice Advisory Group thank all who submitted comments and attended the public meetings. Your participation is a valued part of the process and is greatly appreciated.

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