NEWARK, NJ — Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced May 11 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. View the report at data-newgin.opendata.arcgis.com/datasets/newark-nj-2021-environmental-resources-inventory.
“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,” Environmental Commission Co-chairperson Cynthia Mellon said.
This report takes a Newark-specific approach to documenting environmental conditions in the city by explicitly focusing on environmental justice, including Newark’s Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts Ordinance, the first of its kind in the United States.
In support of the report, 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, NJSA 13:1D-157, which requires the N.J. 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 the community. The ERI also elevates concerns about existing and potential environmental injustices due to the cumulative burden of pollution in some areas of the 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 or zoning boards, 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 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.