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The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Dawn Euer to require the Division of Statewide Planning to designate population-based environmental justice focus areas throughout the state that would have extra protection from new proposals that would create additional adverse environmental impacts.

The purpose of the bill is to protect neighborhoods — particularly those with lower incomes, more minorities and more people for whom English is not the primary language — from bearing outsized shares of the burden of pollution and environmental hazards from infrastructure and development.

“Far too often, neighborhoods that are already suffering more than their share of pollution-producing infrastructure are targeted with proposals for more of them. Often it’s the poorest neighborhoods, partly because people with more means don’t want to live in such areas, and partly because such neighborhoods are often viewed as having less ability to fight back against environmental hazards proposed in them,” said Chairwoman Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) in a statement. “That’s environmental injustice, and our state needs to take deliberate action to prevent it. No one deserves to have their neighborhood serve as a dumping ground for multiple pollution-producing facilities, potentially explosive storage facilities and hazardous chemicals.”

Under the bill (2021-S 0105A), the Division of Statewide Planning would use census data to designate and periodically update environmental justice focus areas based on the neighborhood’s low income levels, high minority population or high number of households without English proficiency.

After a place is designated an environmental justice focus area, those proposing to build developments such as power plants, recycling facilities, incinerators, sewage treatment facilities and other proposals with potential hazardous impacts would be required to follow steps to ensure meaningful public participation in the hearing process. The bill allows the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council to deny any such application if they determine that, together with the cumulative impacts posed by conditions resulting from already permitted activities, it would constitute an unreasonable risk to the health of the residents or the environment in the environmental justice focus area.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket) has introduced companion legislation (2021-H 6383).

The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), Sen. Bridget G. Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence), Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket) and Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).