New Jersey’s environmental justice initiative targets polluters in poor, minority neighborhoods

323 North Olden Avenue in Trenton, N.J. on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (Tim Larsen/New Jersey Office of the Attorney General/New Jersey Office of the Attorney General)

323 North Olden Avenue in Trenton, N.J. on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (Tim Larsen/New Jersey Office of the Attorney General/New Jersey Office of the Attorney General)

The Garden State’s top law enforcement official says time is up for polluters who contaminate sites in low-income and minority neighborhoods, saddling disadvantaged populations with the negative health effects of environmental pollution.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Thursday his office had filed eight lawsuits against companies from Newark to Trenton to Camden.

The legal actions were part of Grewal’s new environmental justice initiative that also includes beefing up the attorney general’s environmental enforcement unit by hiring more attorneys to sue polluters.

“No one’s health or well-being should suffer simply because of their race, origin, or socioeconomic background,” Grewal said. “That seems obvious, but this country and this state have not lived up to that promise.”

The lawsuits aim to force companies to clean up their polluted sites and, in some cases, pay financial penalties or reimburse the state for remediation costs.

One of the lawsuits, against a former nickel- and chrome-plating facility in Pennsauken, uses a federal law to seek monetary damages for harm done to nearby natural resources.

“When neighborhoods or communities become polluted by the activities of some people – usually for profit – we must step up,” said Catherine McCabe, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, which is collaborating on the effort. “Not only to work together to clean up those places, but to make sure the people responsible for them pay for the cost of cleaning them up.”

Alluding to former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Grewal said the previous administration did not do enough to aggressively target polluters.

But the priorities have changed, Grewal said, and he claimed that his office would be filing even more lawsuits over environmental contamination in the new year while declining to say exactly how many.

“I’ll just simply say we’re busy,” he said. “We’re back in the game.”

Polluted sites where the state has filed lawsuits:

– South Main & Hudson, Phillipsburg.

– Gulf Gas, Newark.

– Novick Chemical, Newark.

– Tirpok Cleaners, Flemington.

– 323 North Olden Ave., Trenton.

– Fillit Corporation, Palmyra.

– Puchack Wellfield, Camden.

– Monk’s Amoco, Camden.

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