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Delaware Legislative Black Caucus seeks more focus on environmental justice issues

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media
Neighborhoods along Route 9 just south of Wilmington are surrounded by several industrial facilities

With this year’s legislative session complete, lawmakers are setting their sights on next January.

The Delaware Legislative Black Caucus has announced some policy priorities for the future — and several of those target environmental issues.

Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks with State Rep. Larry Lambert, a long-time environmental justice advocate, about those priorities.

The lawmakers’ legislative priorities include a Green Amendment—which would grant current and future generations the right to a stable and healthy environment—and a focus on Cumulative Health Impacts. 

The latter is a policy idea that could change the way permitting is done for polluting facilities, in an effort to protect communities where several are located. New Jersey passed a similar law last year. 

“You hear about disproportionate rates of asthma,”  said State Rep. Larry Lambert (D-Claymont), one of the lawmakers leading the effort. “There’s a chronic stress in some of our communities where they don’t think if there’s going to be another hazardous chemical incident, they think of when is there going to be another hazardous chemical incident.”

No bill has been filed yet. Lambert emphasizes that he and other lawmakers are still talking with stakeholders, but says the legislation could seek a change in the permitting process by state environmental regulators. 

“If these communities are already overburdened with a number of polluters, ... we want to make sure that other factors are taken into account, such as the cumulative health impacts on these communities, before legacy companies are allowed to expand or before more companies are allowed to come in,” Lambert said. 

Officials with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) say the air modelling they use to gauge the effects of new industrial facilities on nearby communities when considering construction permits currently cannot account for multiple facilities—but that they’re working to develop this capacity.

New Jersey’s law takes into account cumulative impacts of existing facilities, and requires permit denial if it’s determined a new facility would have a disproportionately negative impact on “overburdened communities,” defined by percentages of low-income and minority residents.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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