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October 14, 1999

DEC creates 'environmental justice' program, appoints new coordinator

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has created a new program to address environmental-justice concerns and ensure community participation in the state's environmental permitting process.

DEC has also named Monica Abreu Conley, a senior DEC enforcement attorney, its first program coordinator to oversee the program.

DEC said Conley will work cooperatively with community organizations, environmental groups, municipalities and the business community on environmental-justice matters. Conley also will work closely with DEC permitting staff to address pending permits involving environmental-justice issues, DEC said.

In addition, DEC announced creation of two new staff positions to address environmental justice issues in the permit-review process.

The two positions, one to be based in Albany and the other in New York City, will work on program development projects and environmental-justice concerns related to specific permit actions.

In a news release, DEC said environmental justice "seeks to address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations."

Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy, environmental justice refers to discriminatory acts, or acts that result in discriminatory effects, in violation of Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, said Ken Pokalsky, The Business Council's director of environmental regulatory programs.

In considering environmental justice issues, the EPA focuses mainly on environmental effects on minority communities, Pokalsky noted.

In contrast, DEC said in its press release that the state's program will address environmental impacts on both minority and low-income populations.

New York State does not have a formal policy on environmental justice issues, Pokalsky noted.

DEC officials have said that the department will appoint a public advisory committee to help it develop one.

DEC said that its new environmental-justice program will address a number of considerations, including: ensuring that environmental-justice factors are considered as part of the environmental permit review process; developing earlier and more effective community- outreach efforts by the DEC; and considering alternative dispute resolution techniques to address environmental justice concerns.

The department's interest in a formal environmental-justice policy was heightened last year with the issuance of the EPA's "interim guidance" on civil-rights complaints (known as "Title 6" actions), Pokalsky noted.

A number of states, including New York, have expressed concerns about the EPA's policy which, among other things, allows permits to be challenged on environmental-justice grounds for up to six months after they are issued, Pokalsky added.