Environmental Injustice - Court halts operation of cement plant dedicated by EPA head Christie Whitman
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See: District Court Decision
Environmental Justice Issues Force Cement Plant to Close
By Cat Lazaroff
CAMDEN, New Jersey, April 24, 2001 (ENS) - In a precedent setting
environmental justice decision, a federal judge has halted operations
at a New Jersey cement plant, saying toxic emissions from the facility
would harm nearby residents and violate their civil rights. The plant
was officially dedicated last March by U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency Administrator Christie Whitman, then New Jersey's governor.
On April 19, Federal District Court Judge Stephen Orlofsky granted a
motion for a temporary injunction prohibiting St. Lawrence Cement
Co. from beginning operations of its $50 million cement manufacturing
facility in Camden, New Jersey.
The Court found that the New Jersey
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
had violated the civil rights of the
African-American and Hispanic residents, who
comprise 90 percent of the residents in the
census tract where the SLC facility is located,
when the agency issued a permit to the plant.
Orlofsky also said the state DEP failed to consider the cumulative
threat posed by pollution from industrial sources already located in
the primarily minority community.
"Much of what this case is about is what the NJDEP failed to
consider," Orlofsky wrote. "It did not consider the pre-existing poor
health of the residents of Waterfront South, nor did it consider the
cumulative environmental burden already borne by this impoverished
community. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the NJDEP failed to
consider the racial and ethnic composition of the population of
Orlofsky's 120 page ruling orders the plant, built by the St. Lawrence
Cement Group of Montreal, to be closed for 30 days, during which the
DEP must complete a full review of the air pollution permits issued to
the facility. The closure is projected to cost St. Lawrence up to
$200,000 a week.
Amy Collings, spokeswoman for the DEP, said the department will
review the decision with the help of the state attorney general's
office before deciding whether to appeal the decision.
St. Lawrence Cement said in a statement that it will appeal the
"We are confident in our investment and proud of the integrity with
which our company submitted to extensive environmental review,
engaged in substantial outreach and responded to community
concerns," said Patrick Doberge, president of St. Lawrence, in the
The ruling came in a case filed February 14 by South Camden Citizens
in Action, a community group formed by local residents who worried
that the cement plant would increase their health risks by adding to
the already polluted air in the region.
The Waterfront South
houses the plant also
contains the region's largest trash incinerator, a power plant, Camden
County's sewage treatment plant, and two Superfund sites, including
one contaminated with radioactive thorium.
The neighborhood's 2,100 residents earn a median household income
of $15,000, less than one fourth of the $67,000 statewide median.
About 90 percent of the residents are from racial or ethnic minorities.
Despite the pollution burden the region is already carrying, the DEP
awarded St. Lawrence permits to emit 60 tons of air pollution each
year. That amount does not include the emissions from an estimated
77,000 trucks expected to visit the plant each year.
In his ruling, Orlofsky said the state failed to follow its own rules
about locating polluting industries in poor or minority neighborhoods.
The DEP also violated permitting rules established under Title VI of
the federal Civil Rights Act.
"It is the Court's understanding that none of the policies or
procedures referred to [by lawyers for the State] have been
implemented," Orlofsky wrote. "Indeed, when asked if she had any
understanding of New Jersey's Environmental Equity Program, Dr.
[Iclal] Atay, chief of the NJDEP's Bureau of Air Quality Control and
Hearing Officer for the SLC permit, stated that she had 'none.'"
Olga Pomar, the Camden Legal Services attorney who filed the suit
on behalf of 10 Waterfront South residents, called the judge's opinion
"unprecedented." Legal experts said the case is the first to overturn
pollution permits on the basis of environmental justice principles,
which state that polluting industries should not be overly represented
in minority or poor communities.
The case could set a legal precedent requiring environmental
regulators to consider the cumulative impacts of polluting industries,
as well as the traffic they will draw, before issuing emissions permits.
In making his decision, Orlofsky cited a study that concluded that
largely minority neighborhoods in New Jersey contain twice as many
polluting industries as white communities.
"In the state of New Jersey there is 'a strong, highly statistically
significant, and disturbing pattern of association between the racial
and ethnic composition of communities, the number of EPA regulated
facilities, and the number of facilities with air permits,'" said Orlofsky,
quoting a passage from the study by Michel Gelobter.
Orlofsky's decision could reflect badly on the environmental record of
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, who attended the plant's
groundbreaking in March 2000 as governor of New Jersey. In her new
position, Whitman has touted her record of reducing pollutant
emissions in the state.
Questions about her commitment to
environmental justice were raised in her
Senate confirmation hearings by Senator
Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Whitman
told the Senate's Environment and Public
Works Committee that no community
should be "singled out" to be "dumped
But Reid said after the hearing that Whitman had been "very
non-committal" on the environmental justice issue, and "gave herself
lots of wiggle room."
EPA spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes said Whitman has not yet
commented on the ruling.
See: District Court Decision
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