Newark, NJ – May 11, 2021 – Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced today that the Newark Environmental Commission, in partnership with the City’s Office of Sustainability and Office of Planning and Zoning, and with funding from the Victoria Foundation, has launched a new report, which was approved at an Environmental Commission meeting.
“The Environmental Resource Inventory will provide a baseline for understanding Newark’s environmental burden, with an eye toward better decision-making in terms of community health and long-term sustainability,” said Cynthia Mellon, co-chair of the commission.
This report takes a Newark-specific approach to documenting environmental conditions in the city by explicitly focusing on environmental justice, reflecting the City’s commitment to environmental justice, including Newark’s Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts Ordinance (EJCIO), the first of its kind in the U.S.
In support of the report, Mayor Baraka said: “This ERI is another example of Newark paving the way, surpassing the traditional natural resource inventory — which concentrates primarily on wildlife habitat protection — to center the focus on Newark children and families as we continue to move Newark forward and improve the environmental health and quality of life in our neighborhoods.”
The ERI’s environmental justice focus also ties into New Jersey’s first-in-the-nation State Environmental Justice Law (N.J.S.A. 13:1D-157), which requires the NJ Department of Environmental Protection “to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications.”
While the ERI is intended to be a resource for residents on the relationships between Newark’s environmental features, demographic, and health data, its primary goal is to inform decision-makers about the ways in which the built environment impacts our community. The ERI also elevates concerns about existing and potential environmental injustices due to the cumulative burden of pollution in some areas of our city. This report will bolster the EJCIO in that now, all applicants for commercial, manufacturing, or industrial developments are required to reference the ERI when submitting the application’s environmental checklist to the Planning Board or Zoning Board, in order to make the case that their development will not add to the city’s cumulative environmental burden.
“The ERI is the foundation for informed land-use planning and decision-making that helps in the protection of our ecosystem, which in turn benefits the health of our residents and environment,” City Planning Officer Christopher Watson said.
The Newark ERI is the result of tireless advocacy of New Jersey environmental justice leaders, the Newark Environmental Commission, and the leadership of Mayor Baraka. Graduate interns Irena Gorski-Steiner, MPH, and Rachel Bowers; along with GIS Planner Nathan Erwin; and Chief Sustainability Officer Nathaly Agosto Filión authored the ERI, with support and oversight from the Newark Environmental Commission. Additional support was provided by Dr. Ana Baptista and Dr. Nicky Sheats of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance.
“I want to congratulate the City of Newark on completing its initial environmental resource inventory,” said Dr. Sheats, who was recently appointed to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “This document will support the operation of the City's Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts Ordinance and help keep it in the forefront of innovative environmental justice activities.”
The ERI consists of maps and other graphics that provide geospatial information about Newark’s positive and negative environmental features, including highways, industrial areas, utilities, trees, parks, and flood zones, juxtaposed with demographic and health data, such as poverty, race, asthma rates, and cardiovascular disease, with interpretive text based on the latest available data. An equitable and clean environment can strengthen the health and prosperity of a city, but when the urban environment is taken for granted, residents suffer higher risks of certain illnesses, steeper inequality, and greater barriers to opportunity.
“Newark has four Superfund sites on the national priority list, dozens of waste processing facilities, a regional incinerator, one of the largest sewer treatment facilities in the U.S., a seaport, an airport, and other polluting facilities all within 25 square miles — so there are large considerations in terms of what kind of industries are being attracted to the City,” said Mrs. Agosto Filión. “The City of Newark’s sustainability commitments will continue to center the needs of Newarkers with a goal of ensuring that our environment is a positive force in the life of our city. The ERI is a key part of ensuring that we both acknowledge and address our inherited legacy of industry and contamination burden, as we develop into a cleaner, greener, 21st Century model city.”
The Newark Environmental Resource Inventory is dedicated to Dr. Clement Alexander Price, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University-Newark, who was celebrated for decades as a historian, teacher, mentor, patron of the arts and humanities, public servant, advisor to leaders at the university and at all levels of government — up to and including the White House — and a clear-eyed observer of Newark.
On May 26, at 6 p.m., there will be a film screening of Sacrifice Zone followed by a panel discussion about the film to mark the release of Newark’s ERI, broadcast on Facebook Live. For more details on this event plus updates to EJCIO forms, please contact Mrs. Agosto Filión at email@example.com.
To review Newark’s ERI and a database of map layers, click here.
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